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Death toll climbs from Canada mystery illness

Sixteen people have now died from a mystery viral outbreak at a Toronto nursing home and 38 are in hospital, health officials said, as testing continued to uncover the cause of the illness.
/ Source: Reuters

Sixteen people have now died from a mystery viral outbreak at a Toronto nursing home and 38 are in hospital, health officials said on Wednesday, as testing continued to uncover the cause of the illness.

The unidentified respiratory illness, which was first detected on Sept. 25, has sparked memories of the SARS outbreak two years ago that killed 44 people in and around Canada’s largest city.

Health officials have confirmed the outbreak is not severe acute respiratory syndrome, although it is a particularly severe flu-like illness. They said it is now  under control.

Six new deaths were added to the toll on Wednesday, all of them elderly residents at the Seven Oaks Home for the Aged. All of the dead were aged between 50 and 95.

“The six new deaths are not new cases,” said David McKeown, Toronto’s medical health officer. “All of these elderly individuals had been previously identified as cases and had underlying medical conditions.”

There have been no new reported cases in the last 24 hours, McKeown said.

Health officials have also ruled out avian flu and influenza and are awaiting further lab results.

McKeown said it is possible they may never be able to identify the virus, which has infected 70 residents at the home as well as 13 employees and five visitors.

About half of all respiratory illnesses never get diagnosed, he said.

The 38 people in hospital, including two employees and two visitors to the home, have been placed in isolation. Residents with less severe symptoms are recovering at the nursing home, which is closed to visitors and new patients.

Area hospitals and emergency rooms were operating normally but medical staff at hospitals with infected patients were donning gowns, masks and gloves when handling patients as extra precautions.