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Germ Blamed for Six Deaths in Mass.

September 29, 1999

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. (AP) _ Authorities downplayed any serious threat after evidence showed a common pneumonia virus likely was responsible for six deaths at a home for the chronically ill and disabled.

``It is very encouraging because it bolsters what the epidemiologists have been saying all along, which is that it’s a common respiratory virus,″ said Roseanne Pawelec, a spokeswoman for the state Health Department.

Four girls, a boy and a 29-year-old woman who were living in the pediatric unit of the Northampton Nursing Home have died during the outbreak.

In all, 24 of 36 residents in the unit have come down with symptoms of the respiratory ailment since Sept. 1. A 40-year-old patient in another section of the home has also been sick, and three staffers with similar symptoms needed hospital treatment.

Health officials say the germ spread so widely within the home because many of the children were already severely ill, some with weakened immune systems.

Pawelec said the germ is suspected to be an adenovirus, which is a class of viruses that cause respiratory disease. Symptoms in the Northampton outbreak include coughing and congestion.

Health officials say the germ presumably entered the home from someone in the community. Since there is no outbreak outside the home, doctors say they are confident they are dealing with a germ that is not a big threat to otherwise healthy people.

The nursing home, which is a tidy two-story brick building in a residential neighborhood, referred questions to state health authorities.

State health officials say the nursing home has stopped new admissions, curbed visits, isolated residents in the pediatric unit, and kept its staff from shifting to other units. Some of the residents had received hospital treatment for respiratory infection.

The state Health Department and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are investigating.

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