The Wanaque Center for Nursing And Rehabilitation

Kevin R. Wexler/

7th Child Dies In Viral Outbreak At N.J. Pediatric Center

October 24, 2018 - 8:55 am

HASKELL, N.J. (WCBS 880) -- A severe viral outbreak in New Jersey has left seven children dead and sickened multiple others, the state Health Department said Tuesday.  

The illness was traced to the Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Passaic County. The center for “medically fragile children” serves as a nursing home, a rehab center and a pediatric center with short and long term care.

Roughly 18 cases of adenovirus – a typically mild viral infection – have been confirmed at the treatment facility. The strain afflicting the children is usually associated with acute respiratory illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Unfortunately, the particular strain of adenovirus (#7) in this outbreak is affecting medically fragile children with severely compromised immune systems,” the department said. “The combination of a worse strain of adenovirus together with a fragile population has led to a more severe outbreak.”

Adenovirus is usually pretty mild, but it can pose a threat to people with immune system issues. The health department says the strain seems to be associated with communal living facilities.

"It can cause pretty much like a common cold type of illness in the majority of the population," said Dr. Waleed Javaid, of Mt. Sinai Hospital. He added that if someone's immune system is compromised a minor cold can turn into something much worse.

The Health Department didn't release the ages of the victims or address the severity of the illness in the other dozen cases.

“In these kids, the virus just can go rampant because the immune system is not working properly,” said CBS News medical correspondent Dr. John LaPook. “So you can get severe pneumonia, you can need a breathing tube, you can get hepatitis –that’s inflammation of the liver – you could have meningitis –inflammation of the brain – and infections in other parts of the body.”

The six deaths happened this month, according to Health Department spokeswoman Donna Leusner.

An investigative team was at the center Tuesday and Sunday and found “minor handwashing deficiencies,” the Health Department said.

Nurses at the center complained through their union that they are understaffed. In 2016 and 2017, state health inspectors cited the facility for failing to properly supervise patients, including one who broke a leg falling in the shower. They were also cited for failure to disinfect surfaces and failure to handle medical equipment in a sanitary manner, WCBS 880's Marla Diamond reported.

Republican State Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi who represents the area says she is just learning of the violations.

"That is something that we need to take a look at and to see whether or not that contributed in any sort of fashion to what's going on," she said.

Schepisi says she was shocked at the lag time in notifying families. In an e-mail, a health department spokeswoman says they were notified by the facility on Oct. 9 that there were respiratory illnesses but they didn't send a notification to families until Oct. 19.

Adenoviruses are typically spread through close personal contact, coughing, sneezing, and touching a surface with adenovirus on it before touching your mouth, nose, or eyes.

The center was instructed by the Health Department not to admit any new patients while there is an "ongoing outbreak investigation" underway at the facility in Haskell. 

(© WCBS 880. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)