Hospital outbreak leaves six dead

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Norwegian health officials are saddened and deeply disturbed by the deaths of six elderly patients following an outbreak of the Corona virus at a hospital in southeastern Norway. “This is something we have not experienced during the entire Corona year behind us,” said Dr Jon Birger Haug, a specialist in infectious diseases.

The relatively new Østfold Kalnes Hospital sprawls over a large area just north of Sarpsborg in southeastern Norway. PHOTO: Sykehuset Østfold

Newspaper VG reported Friday that the outbreak occurred after an employee tested positive to the Corona virus in early February. Within just a few days, 23 people on staff at the Østfold Kalnes Hospital had also tested positive, along with 10 patients.

The hospital is located just north of Sarpsborg and serves residents of Fredrikstad, Halden and the surrounding area where there have been several Corona outbreaks over the past year.

Now it’s emerged, through VG, that six of the 10 infected patients at Kalnes have since died. All six were over the age of 80, while the four who survived the Corona infection were between 30 and 80.

“I think this is enormously sad,” Haug told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) as the story spread in Norwegian media Friday. He noted that the unusually rapid and fatal infection occurred “exactly when virus mutations began to spread,”  following outbreaks of the new virus strains in the Follo region just farther north.

The hospital has thus launched an international examination of the outbreak, in an effort to find out whether new lessons can be learned. “We always dig into whether we could have done anything differently,” Haug said. “We haven’t been able to find what went wrong, in relation to how anti-infection measures were put into place and how quickly this happened.”

After the first employee was confirmed as being infected with the virus, the hospital launched mass testing of both employees and patients. Two days later came results of the first positive test among patients. The hospital reported that it had control over everyone who could be involved, but by then, many were already infected.

They soon learned the virus infecting them was a mutation and extra contagious. It spread much more quickly than in any earlier cases of Corona at Kalnes.

“This is one of the worst things that can happen in a hospital, because there are so many who land in quarantine,” Kalnes’ professional director Helge Stene-Johansen told NRK. “That can affect operations, so this is something we’ve been anxious about.”

Dr Asbjørn Sorteberg, head of Kalnes’ orthopedic ward, told VG that the hospital had already dealth with positive Corona tests both in the out-patient clinic and among patients who’d been admitted. “But that’s never resulted in any outbreak,” Sorteberg said. “Now there’s a virus that’s clearly much more contagious.”

NewsInEnglish.no/Nina Berglund