Reported illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths of residents sickened in an infectious disease outbreak at a Virginia continuing care retirement community have inched upward since June 30, and now another, unrelated senior living community nearby also is reporting an outbreak.

McKnight’s Senior Living reported on Monday that 55 residents of Greenspring retirement community in Springfield, VA, had become ill, with 20 hospitalized and two dying. Tuesday, the Fairfax County Health Department said the count of sick assisted living and skilled nursing residents had increased to 63 and the death count had increased to a total of three. Additionally, 19 employee illnesses now have been reported as well, the department said.

Dan Dunne, Erickson Living’s director of external communications, told McKnight’s Senior Living Wednesday afternoon that no new cases had been reported over the past 24 hours. “There have also been no new hospitalizations related to respiratory illness in the past few days,” he said.

The cause of the illness remains a mystery.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has tested 17 specimens from sick residents and has been unable to determine a cause, Benjamin Schwartz, M.D., a medical epidemiologist with the county health department, said Wednesday at a press conference.

“There were several bacteria that were identified, but again, older people in a facility may carry these bacteria normally without them causing illness,” he said. “We are continuing to work with the facility on the investigation and, again, we are very pleased with the collaboration and the quality with which this infection prevention is being implemented at the facility.”

Results of tests for Legionnaires’ disease have been negative, Schwartz said.

To reduce the risk of an outbreak occurring in other areas of the retirement community, infection control measures are being used in the independent living section, too, even though the illness has been limited to assisted living and skilled nursing residents, according to the health department.

“Greenspring’s infection control and preventive measures have gone a long way in containing the respiratory illnesses on campus,” Dunne said.

Most residents who were hospitalized have returned to the retirement community, and most sickened employees have returned to work, he added, noting that no new illness among employees have been reported since Friday.

“Moving forward, the community continues to work in close partnership with the Fairfax County Health Department and act with an abundance of caution to safeguard the welfare of residents,” Dunne said.

Another outbreak

Officials said Wednesday that the health department and the CDC now also are investigating a respiratory illness outbreak at a separate senior living community approximately seven miles from Greenspring.

The outbreak at Heatherwood Retirement Community, a Retirement Unlimited Inc. independent living and assisted living community in Burke, VA, does not appear to be related to the illnesses at Greenspring, the health department said.

“There are about 25 people who have experienced respiratory illness,” Schwartz said. “Two of them were identified with pneumonia, and there have been no deaths.”

The health department is working with Heatherwood to ensure that appropriate infection control are being implemented, department officials said in a statement.

Heatherwood had not responded to a request for comment from McKnight’s Senior Living as of the publication deadline on Wednesday.

Editor’s Note: The Fairfax County Health Department issued the following update on Heatherwood on July 18 after this article was published: “During the publicity surrounding the Greenspring outbreak investigation, staff at Heatherwood in Burke proactively reached out to the Health Department to request guidance for ensuring the safety and health of the residents within their assisted-living facility. While they have experienced some cases of respiratory symptoms, there is no evidence of any connection to the situation at Greenspring. Most of the ill residents at Heatherwood have recovered. The facility has been working very closely with the Health Department to ensure that their infection control measures reflect the Health Department’s current best practices.”