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Poor infection control linked to deadly viral outbreak

A deadly viral outbreak at a nursing facility sounds like the plot of a gothic horror novel, not a contemporary news story that could happen in or near Maryland in the 21st century. Nevertheless, this nightmare scenario for parents is currently playing out at a New Jersey long-term care facility for children with compromised immune systems where 25 children have fallen ill with an adenovirus, nine of whom have died. 

There are many different types of disease-causing adenoviruses. The type involved in the current outbreak is type 7. It is an environmentally hardy virus that can remain infectious for long periods on surfaces such as medical instruments and is resistant to many common disinfectants. Infected individuals often demonstrate upper respiratory symptoms similar to the flu.

Part of what makes the current outbreak so devastating is that most adenovirus infections are mild, and patients typically recover after about 10 days. It is extremely uncommon for an adenovirus infection to result in death. In fact, in a healthy individual, an adenovirus infection is typically less serious than a case of influenza. However, in patients with compromised immune systems, an adenovirus can cause potentially life-threatening complications, such as brain inflammation or pneumonia.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services conducted an inspection of the facility in August, prior to the outbreak, and reported that the facility failed to provide a clean and homelike physical environment for its residents. CMS rated the facility below average on its health inspection, though awarded it an above-average rating overall. Shortages of both supplies and nursing staff may have led to poor infection control practices, including minor handwashing deficiencies, that potentially contributed to the outbreak, according to The Health Professionals and Allied Employees.

Proper handwashing and sterilization techniques in medical and nursing facilities can be a matter of life and death, especially as disease-causing agents such as viruses and bacteria continue to develop resistance and immunity to the measures traditionally used to control them. Parents of children who have suffered due to medical malpractice may wish to consult an attorney.

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