Maryland officials probe fatal respiratory illness cluster

Mar 6, 2012 (CIDRAP News) – Maryland health officials are investigating a cluster of severe respiratory illnesses in a Calvert County family that led to the deaths of an elderly woman and two adult children who cared for her.

The Calvert County Health Department (CCHD), which released the first details about the cases in an e-mail alert, posted a press release on its Web site today and has updated the information twice as new details became available.

David Rogers, MD, MDH, health officer with the CCHD, said in the statement that it is investigating a cluster of illnesses and deaths in a Lusby area family. He said the illnesses are confined to a single family, and the CCHD isn't recommending any specific precautions for the general public.

The first case is in an 81-year-old woman who got sick on Feb 23 at her home, where she received care from three of her children, a son and two daughters.  The caregivers became ill with similar upper respiratory symptoms on Feb 28. All were hospitalized.

The woman, her 58-year-old son, and her 56-year-old daughter died, and the other daughter is hospitalized at Washington Hospital Center. As of 4:30 pm US eastern time this afternoon, no new cases had been reported.

The CCHD said the state medical examiner is investigating deaths to determine the cause of the illnesses.

Karen Black, director of public relations for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, told CIDRAP News that state health officials are working with local health officials to investigate the cause of the illnesses and that the state's public health lab will conduct additional testing.

She said the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is aware of the situation.

Calvert County Public Schools posted a health alert on its Web site today, saying the district was in contact with the CCHD, which so far has not advised schools to take any specific precautions. 

The story was first reported in the local news media and highlighted by flu and infectious disease message boards. Earlier versions of the story had reported four deaths.

A CCHD spokesperson said the family's proximity to Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant was not believed to be a factor in the outbreak, according to an NBC news story today. Lusby is located in southern Maryland, and an earlier version of the CCHD press release said the woman's home was in a rural setting.

The CCHD advised residents to take standard precautions to prevent illnesses, such as hand washing and limiting contact with sick people. It urged people with flulike illnesses to contact their healthcare providers.

See also:

Mar 6 CCHD press release

Mar 6 NBC news report

Mar 6 Calvert County Public Schools health alert

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