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Hepatitis C Outbreak Causes an Expansion in Hepatitis Testing (December 21, 2012)

A recent outbreak of the dangerous disease hepatitis C in New Hampshire has lead to more extensive testing. Caused by a traveling medical technician who may have infected more than 30 people, this outbreak is potentially very dangerous for many recent surgical patients. Health officials in New Hampshire are recommending testing to anyone who has had surgery or had been recently admitted to the intensive care unit at Exeter Hospital.

Today Health officials in Maryland announced four new cases at Johns Hopkins Hospital, one at the Baltimore VA Medical Center, six in Kansas and one at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Pennsylvania.  If you are concerned that you may be exposed to Hepatitis C, Health Testing Centers offers liver testing including a blood test for Hepatitis C as well as Hepatitis C Viral load testing.

Hepatitis Outbreak

A lab technician who traveled between multiple facilities was charged with federal drug crimes, due to the fact that he supposedly stole anesthetic drugs from the hospital lab and used them to inject himself. These syringes were placed back into the lab without sterilization. The lab technician, David Kwiatkowski, was hepatitis C-positive and has infected more than 30 people via this mechanism. He was not involved with patient care or any medical procedures, however.

Hepatitis Testing

Originally, the state of New Hampshire recommended that testing be performed on about 1,300 people who had been treated at this lab since October of 2010. The new recommendations, however, cover a much wider range, causing more than 6,000 people to be eligible for testing. According to the president of the medical staff at Exeter Hospital, the facilities would rather unnecessarily test thousands if that means catching all the people who were potentially infected by the malpractice of this individual. Patients in the ambulatory surgical center at the hospital are not included in the testing recommendation and are thought not to be affected by the outbreak. The state mailed letters to patients potentially affected by the outbreak during the week of July 27, inviting all affected people to a public discussion at a local high school. The same location was used for the testing clinics, which use a rapid response blood test that offers faster results than normal tests. This allows worried patients to get a definitive negative result in less time. The rapid response test has a much higher false positive rate than conventional tests, however. Patients who test positive will need a standard test performed to confirm infection.

Potential Problems Elsewhere

In addition to allegedly causing the outbreak in New Hampshire, Kwiatkowski could be responsible for problems elsewhere in the country. This traveling worker was sent by medical staffing agencies to a range of hospitals throughout the U.S. to work in temporary positions. Since 2007, he has worked in at least six states, including New York, Kansas, Maryland and Michigan. This man was also known at work for his tendency to lie to co-workers, including claiming to have cancer. The lab technician has previously been disciplined for or accused of misbehavior in the past, including falsifying time sheets and stealing anesthetic drugs from an operating room. Co-workers noticed that this employee frequently appeared drugged and were highly suspicious. Unfortunately, most workers at other facilities who noticed that drugs were missing did not report them to law enforcement, allowing the infected individual to obtain employment around the country for much longer than he might otherwise have been able to do.

Hepatitis C is a serious condition that unfortunately doesn't produce symptoms in the majority of newly-infected people. This blood-transmitted condition causes slow damage to the liver, eventually leading to cirrhosis and liver failure. Some patients with chronic hepatitis C will eventually develop liver cancer. Hepatitis C can be cured with anti-viral medications in 5 to 8 out of 10 people, but early detection and treatment is important. This outbreak underlines the importance of getting routine hepatitis C testing, along with tests for other health problems. Even people who do not believe they have been at risk could accidentally develop this disease.