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Germ Blamed for Six Deaths in Mass.

September 28, 1999

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. (AP) _ A germ suspected of being a form of viral pneumonia is being blamed for the deaths of five children and an adult at a home for the chronically ill or disabled.

With evidence of pneumonia piling up, the state Health Department on Tuesday discounted the possibility of any serious danger to the surrounding community.

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

Five children and a 29-year-old woman, who were all living at the pediatric unit of the Northampton Nursing Home, have died during the outbreak, which began Sept. 1.

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

Ms. Pawelec said the germ is believed to be an adenovirus, which is a class of viruses that cause respiratory disease.

Health officials say the germ presumably entered the home with someone from the community. After that, it spread so widely and powerfully because many of the children were already severely ill, and some have weakened immune systems.

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.

Clarence Bushey, who lives two blocks from the home, said neighborhood residents, though saddened, don’t seem especially worried about their own safety.

``It hasn’t bothered me,″ he said. ``That kind of stuff happens all the time in a place like that.″

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