Hepatitis C Outbreak Tied to New Hampshire Hospital Grows

Hepatitis C Outbreak Tied to New Hampshire Hospital GrowsThe hepatitis C outbreak that has been tied to New Hampshire’s Exeter Hospital is growing, according to news reports.

Another patient just tested positive for the dangerous virus, bringing a total of 21 confirmed infected with hepatitis C, said the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services Division of Public Health Services (DPHS), according to Seacoast Online. The newest patient’s virus matches the strain of hepatitis C recently diagnosed in the 20 others linked to Exeter Hospital’s cardiac catheterization laboratory (CCL). One of the original 20 patients is also an Exeter Hospital employee who was placed on leave when Exeter’s investigation began last month, said Mark Whitney, vice president of community relations, previously.

Dr. José Montero, director of New Hampshire Health and Human 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.

The Department of Health and Human Services is sending samples from all of the patients with positive results for hepatitis C to the CDC for additional testing; the first six samples sent on June 5th confirm results received from New Hampshire’s Public Health Labs’, wrote Seacoast Online. “We are confident in our testing results,” said Dr. Montero. “However, given the implications of these tests, we want the CDC to independently validate our results and hopefully shed more light on the outbreak itself. We have tested over 1,000 samples from patients identified as being treated in the CCL or its recovery room. The investigation is still ongoing, but we are working as quickly and as thoroughly as we can in close collaboration with Exeter Hospital to complete the necessary work,” he continued, wrote Seacoast Online. Test result information is being posted to the DHHS Web site at www.dhhs.nh.gov.

Patients treated at the CCL or its recovery room from October 1, 2010 and May 25, 2012 should have received a letter from Exeter Hospital recommending they be tested, which can be scheduled through Exeter Hospital’s Information and Referral Center at 1.603.580-6124. Additional testing sites have been set up at Hampton and Portsmouth, noted Seacoast Online.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press (AP) recently reported that U.S. Attorney John Kacavas announced that his office 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.

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 cause inflammation of the liver and 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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