Albany Personal Injury Attorney Explains Wrongful Death Law in Adenovirus Outbreak
A ninth child has died as a result of an outbreak of adenovirus at the Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Haskell, New Jersey.
According to health officials, the outbreak started on September 26, when a child in the ventilator unit was diagnosed with a respiratory ailment. About a week later, another resident of the center—a nursing home and rehabilitation facility with a pediatrics unit dedicated to “medically fragile” children—came down with a fever and was admitted to a nearby hospital. Another week later, after work hours on October 9, the center notified the New Jersey Department of Health to report “a cluster of respiratory illnesses.” The department began investigating the outbreak the following morning.
To date, there are 25 confirmed cases of children stricken with an adenovirus at the Wanaque Center. Nine of them have died; the timeline of their deaths is not clear.
What is an adenovirus?
Adenoviruses are a family of DNA viruses that cause infections affecting the tissue linings of the respiratory tract, eyes, intestines, urinary tract, and nervous system, commonly causing illnesses ranging from colds to bronchitis to pneumonia. Depending on the type, adenoviruses can cause other illnesses such as gastroenteritis, conjunctivitis, and, less commonly, neurological disease. The incubation period for infection is approximately 2–14 days, and the period of communicability lasts for the duration of symptoms. Viral shedding may be several months for immunocompromised patients.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with weakened immune symptoms or existing respiratory or cardiac diseases are at high risk of developing severe illness caused by adenovirus infection. The viruses account for about 5 to 10 percent of fevers in young children, but most patients recover. The children at Wanaque, who live with serious illnesses and disabilities—some residents cannot walk or talk—are more susceptible to serious infections due to their already compromised immune systems.
The adenoviruses may persist on unclean surfaces and medical instruments, and are known to be resistant to common disinfectants. The strain identified in this outbreak, adenovirus type 7, is particularly associated with disease in communal living arrangements, where it can easily be spread by coughing and sneezing, direct contact with an infected person, or contact with objects and surfaces such as door handles and light switches. There is no adenovirus vaccine available to the general public.
How could this have been prevented?
To prevent outbreaks of adenovirus, it is important that health care facilities follow strict infection prevention and control protocols, including proper staff education and training. Once an outbreak is suspected, proper procedures include precautions such as patient isolation, patient respiratory hygiene, use of personal protective equipment by staff, proper staff personal hygiene, single use of equipment in patient care, environmental cleaning, proper clinical disposal of wastes, laundry, and linens, and safe management of blood and bodily fluids.
A federal inspection in August earned the Wanaque Center mixed reviews; the facility scored above average on overall quality but received a below-average health-inspection rating. According to the report by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, certain areas at the center “failed to provide a clean and homelike physical environment for their residents. ”
Nurses at Wanaque previously had reported a shortage of nursing staff and supplies, according to the Health Professionals and Allied Employees (HPAE) union, which represents the 70 nurses who work at the facility. The staff shortages, the union said, may have led to “poor infection control practices.”
Neglicence & Wrongful Death Lawsuits Explained
Nursing care facilities have a duty to exercise reasonable care to protect their residents. State and federal statutes also provide minimum standards of care for patient care, hiring and supervision of employees, and other facility-related safety measures. If negligence and wrongful death claims are filed against the Wanaque Center, answers will be sought to a number of questions, including the adequacy of the facility’s cleanliness; the education and training of staff; the absence of preventive infection-control measures; and the delayed response to the outbreak, including the two-week gap between the beginning of the outbreak and the decision to notify the health department, and the failure to warn patients’ families of the outbreak.