Disinfectant overuse may have caused 21 nurses to fall ill at Vermont hospital

An investigator believes too much disinfectant use at a Vermont hospital is at least partly to blame for 21 nurses suffering from dizziness, confusion and nausea, according to VT Digger.

In April and May, 21 inpatient rehabilitation staff members at University of Vermont Medical Center's Fanny Allen Campus in Colchester fell ill. No patients reported similar symptoms. 

An investigation was conducted by Vermont Department of Health radiological science program chief Bill Irwin, who said the nurses used too much disinfectant in attempts to slow the spread of COVID-19. Mr. Irwin also said staff may have inadvertently combined chemicals and used Oxivir Five 16 concentrate, an "unauthorized" cleaning chemical. However, the nurses experienced such a variety of symptoms that it was impossible to pinpoint one definite cause, Mr. Irwin said.

Even without a clear answer, Fanny Allen Inpatient Rehab staff will return to their workspace in a phased reentry this fall. Staff will be trained in chemical hygiene that includes only using authorized chemical products. The facility also installed carbon monoxide detectors, added air filters, upgraded the kitchen exhaust systems and is asking employees to wear carbon monoxide monitors. 

Dawn LeBaron, vice president of hospital services for the hospital, said a staff advisory group decided to return to the facility rather than remaining in a temporary space on the main campus.  

The report marks the second time in 12 months that investigators haven't been able to determine a specific cause for a strange illness affecting Fanny Allen employees. Last October, 17 staff members reported feeling sick after smelling exhaust-like fumes in an operating room, and seven employees reported a similar odor and symptoms Nov. 27. The facility's operating rooms were closed for two months last winter to investigate. 

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