A severe viral outbreak at a New Jersey rehabilitation center for "medically fragile children" has left six youngsters dead and 12 others sick, the state Health Department said Tuesday. There have been 18 cases of adenovirus at the Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Haskell, about 30 miles northwest of New York, the New Jersey Health Department said in a statement. Adenoviruses often cause mild illness, particularly in young children, but people with weakened immune systems are at risk of getting severely sick, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The strain afflicting the children is usually associated with acute respiratory illness, according to the CDC, which on its website instructs health workers to report unusual clusters to state or local health departments. The Health Department didn't release the ages of the victims or address the severity of the illness in the other dozen cases, the AP reports.
The six deaths happened this month, according to Health Department spokeswoman Donna Leusner. The facility was instructed not to admit new patients until the outbreak ends, and the Health Department said the number of new cases appears to be decreasing. Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said these kinds of fatalities are not common, but they're known to happen. "Here I think you have this kind of nasty combination of very fragile children and this particularly aggressive virus," he said. The strain in the New Jersey outbreak is No. 7 and is affecting "medically fragile" children with severely compromised immune systems, according to the Health Department. It has been associated with communal living and can be more severe. A scientific paper cited by the CDC reported that a 1998 outbreak of type 7 adenovirus at a pediatric chronic-care facility in Chicago claimed the lives of eight patients. (A mysterious polio-like illness is surging across the US.)