Virus sweeps through hospital cancer wards

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Virus sweeps through hospital cancer wards
Photo: DPA

A normally harmless virus has infiltrated the oncology department at Heidelberg University's hospital, infecting 19 severely ill patients and possibly leading to three deaths. Health authorities are searching for the source of the outbreak.


Since the beginning of 2012 a wave of Human respiratory syncytial virus (RS-virus) has been coursing through three different cancer wards in the Baden-Würrtemburg hospital. Officials have not yet identified the source of the infection, which rarely leads to fatalities in health people.

The RS-virus is relatively common, but it can be highly contagious since it is airborne.

“It is not the virus itself which is concerning, but the concentration of cases,” said the director of the department for infectious diseases Hans-Georg Kräusslich at a press conference on Monday.

The three deceased patients were a 67-year-old woman, and two men aged 42 and 56. All were suffering from a form of leukemia. It has not been officially confirmed whether the patients died as a direct result from the infection, which in a healthy person would just cause a cold.

But head of internal medicine and oncology at the hospital, Anthony Ho said, “the virus definitely had fatal consequences.”

Governmental health authority experts have been brought in to the hospital, as well as members of the Robert Koch Institute; a federal organisation responsible for disease control and prevention.

While 200 employees and patients have been screened, only one carrier of the RS-virus has been discovered - a hospital employee who has been ordered to stay at home until further notice.

A second round of screenings took place on Tuesday and the hospital has put extraordinary hygiene measures in place, meaning all employees must wear face masks and protective clothing to prevent spreading the infection.

Since January 17 no new cases have been reported.

The Local/DPA/jcw


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