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1st signs in deadly NJ outbreak that killed 7 showed up month ago

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NEW JERSEY — Health officials say the first symptoms associated with the deadly viral outbreak at nursing facility in northern New Jersey showed up Sept. 26, two weeks before the state was notified of an outbreak.

State health officials were notified Oct. 9 of the adenovirus infections at the Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation.

But state health commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal told a news conference Wednesday that it's always difficult to know exactly when an actual outbreak begins.

Seven patients, mostly children, have died this month as a result of being infected with the virus. Eleven others are recovering.

The health commissioner says that all the infections occurred in the facility's respiratory, or ventilator unit.

Some pediatric patients at the rehab center have been there most or all of their lives.

The head of a New Jersey nurses union says staff nurses at the rehab center had complained about staffing shortages, which they say might lead to poor infection control.

Deborah White is president of the Health Professionals and Allied Employees union. She says in a statement that the 70 nurses represented by the union are working to contain the spread of the adenovirus at the Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation "under difficult circumstances." She notes what the nurses say are dangerous staffing shortages.

The facility's 2016 inspection noted a shortage of clinical nursing assistants that ranged from about 6 percent to 12 percent of the needed coverage during several days of monitoring in March. Later inspections did not note the problem.

New Jersey's health commissioner says it's unlikely the viral outbreak will pose a wider threat.

Dr. Shereef Elnahal said in an interview with the Associated Press Wednesday he doesn't "see a major outbreak risk in the community."

He says that's because the adenovirus that infected at least 18 pediatric patients commonly results in only mild illnesses among people with healthy immune systems.

The health department says most of those who died were under 18. At least one is a young adult. Health officials had been describing all those infected as children, which is the way the health facility describes its pediatric patients even though it says some are as old as 22.

Federal inspectors over the past few years found isolated violations of rules governing infection control.

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