Feds Join Probe of New Hampshire Hepatitis C Outbreak

Feds Join Probe of New Hampshire Hepatitis C OutbreakThe feds have joined the probe into the ongoing hepatitis C outbreak that has sickened 20 and originated with a hospital in New Hampshire.

According to the Associated Press (AP), the U.S. attorney’s office in Concord joined the investigation that involves Exeter Hospital in New Hampshire and appears to have begun in its cardiac catheterization laboratory (CCL). An adjacent recovery room has also been implicated.

Dr. José Montero, director of New Hampshire Health and Services, recently told CNN that the culprit appears to have been an infected hospital employee who moved part of a medication dose by injecting that dose into him/herself and administering the remainder of the medication to patients, using the same needle. The scenario—“drug diversion”—has been at the root of at least three hospital hepatitis outbreaks, nationwide, since 2001, according to a study conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and published in the health care administration journal Medical Care earlier this year.

To date, 19 patients and one employee tested positive for the dangerous liver disease. The employee diagnosed with hepatitis C was placed on leave when Exeter’s investigation began last month, said Mark Whitney, vice president of community relations.

U.S. Attorney John Kacavas announced that his office has brought in personnel from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) to determine if the hepatitis C outbreak represents a criminal or civil matter, said the AP.

As we mentioned this week, potential hepatitis C victims are being offered free testing and the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services will be involved in that testing following patient concerns. A special public meeting revealed that a number of people had to be re-tested after Exeter Hospital neglected to get 27 blood samples to the state lab within the 72 hours required for testing. Exeter patients who underwent or who are pending hepatitis C testing said they are afraid to return to the hospital. Since, state epidemiologist Sharon Alroy-Preis said, “We’re trying to organize something that’s in the general area but not part of Exeter Hospital.” Officials at Exeter Hospital issued a statement saying they have begun collecting new samples.

Exeter Hospital said the samples in question were drawn on scheduled the testing dates of June 7 and June 8, and picked up from Exeter on Saturday, June 9 by the state’s courier; however, the state says samples were not received until Monday, too late for processing, Seacoast Online wrote. “The hospital is committed to determining, together with the state, why these samples were not processed within the required 72-hour time frame, even though they were picked up from Exeter Hospital on Saturday by the state’s courier,” the hospital statement read. The hospital will no longer collect samples for this outbreak’s hepatitis C testing over the weekend, Seacoast Online reported.

Blood borne diseases can be transmitted when an infected person is given a shot and either the needle or syringe is reused. Microscopic backflow can enter the syringe from the contaminated person and then also enters the medicine vial, which puts other patients receiving that medication at risk from the needle, the syringe, and the drug vial.

Hepatitis C is a viral liver disease that can lead to chronic liver disease, such as cirrhosis, or cancer of the liver. The virus is spread by contact with infected body fluids; no vaccine exists for hepatitis C, which can  be fatal. According to the CDC, liver disease caused by hepatitis C results in 12,000 deaths in the country every year. Hepatitis C is the most common chronic blood borne viral infection in the U.S. said the CDC, with about 3.2 million Americans suffering from lifelong, chronic infection.

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