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Patient fumes close emergency room

Hospital officials downplayed any similarities between noxious fumes that closed an emergency room and another incident that made six people ill at a southern California hospital.

Three people complained of headaches, dizziness and burning eyes after smelling fumes while treating a patient at Mercy Hospital late Saturday. Their symptoms subsided quickly, said hospital spokesman Barry Ginsbarg.

Hazardous materials workers scrubbed the emergency room before it reopened late Sunday, Ginsbarg said.

People caring for the woman wore protective gloves and masks as a precaution, he said.

"I think we have to look at this as an isolated case," said Kimburli Hashim, Mercy's director of emergency services.

On Feb. 19, six workers at a hospital in Riverside were sickened by fumes apparently emanating from Gloria Ramirez, 31, who was being treated in the Riverside General Hospital emergency room.

She arrived at the hospital semi-conscious and having trouble breathing. She died of heart failure. It could takes weeks of forensic tests before doctors can say what caused the mysterious events.

Mercy Hospital medical personnel noticed an ammonia-like odor after inserting a breathing tube into the 44-year-old woman, who had difficulty breathing and a low pulse rate, Ginsbarg said.

The patient, whose name was withheld, was in critical but stable condition Monday, said nursing supervisor Larry Call. She was on a respirator and unable to talk with staff.

The cause of her illness was unknown, although it was being treated as a possible poisoning, Ginsbarg said.