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Aug 11, 2017 4:19 PM

Hazmat crews working to determine what made 19 Exeter Hospital staff members sick


EXETER — Hazmat crews are still working to determine the source of an odor that made 19 staff members ill and forced evacuations in parts of the hospital Friday.

READ: 17 Exeter Hospital staff members treated after symptoms of dizziness, nausea, vomiting

Assistant Exeter Fire Chief Eric Wilking said initial testing ruled out carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide as the sources of the odor and said that hazmat crews with far more advanced equipment are working to determine the cause of the odor.

"If it's there, if they can detect a gas, they'll be able to figure out what that gas is," Wilking said.

Debra Vasapolli, director of Community Relations, said staff in the inpatient OR started experiencing for symptoms of dizziness, nausea and vomiting around 8:30 a.m. It started with about four employees complaining of headaches and nausea and escalated to about 10 more at the time. The employees were removed from the area within about 10 minutes.

The hospital as an "abundance of caution" quickly closed off the OR area as will as the Emergency Department, which is located about the OR, said Dr. Neil Meehan, chief physician executive.

Meehan said one patient had been in surgery at the time staff members started to experience symptoms, but no one performing the surgery became sick and that patient was unaffected and is recovering from the surgery at the hospital.

The number of staff members suffering from symptoms increased at several points throughout the day, reaching 19. Some of those were treated and went home and 12 of the affected staff member had to be taken to other hospitals, Wilking said.

"All the patients are doing very well," said Meehan of the staff members. "They had mild symptoms. There was no indication that this was life-threatening in any way."

In response to why other areas weren't shut down, Meehan said the area is small and isolated.

"Frankly, the HVAC for almost any OR is completely isolated and no one had symptoms in any other area of the hospital," Meehan said.

The hospital plans to provide another update when more information becomes available.

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