A lab technician has been charged in a New Hampshire hepatitis C outbreak linked to Exeter Hospital’s Cardiac Catheterization Unit. Dozens of patients were infected with the dangerous virus.
The former lab technician, David Michael Kwiatkowski, 32, is facing charges in the outbreak that originated with his fraudulently obtaining controlled substances and tampering with a consumer product, according to U.S. Attorney John P. Kacavas, said Reuters. Some 30 people are believed infected with hepatitis C as a result of Kwiatkowski’s fraud at Exeter’s Cardiac Catheterization Unit. “The evidence gathered, to date, points irrefutably to Kwiatkowski as the source of the hepatitis C outbreak at Exeter Hospital,” Kacavas told Reuters. “With his arrest, we have eliminated the menace this ‘serial infector’ posed to public health and safety.”
Kwiatkowski, diagnosed with hepatitis C, worked in the lab until May, when the investigation was initiated. He is accused of stealing syringes filled with Fentanyl, a very powerful pain drug, explained Reuters. Kwiatkowski would inject himself with the Fentanyl, replacing patient medication with saline solution. The tainted, diluted solution would then be injected into patients, said Kacavas, wrote Reuters.
“It is deeply disturbing that the alleged callous acts of one individual can have such an impact on so many innocent lives. As a result of his alleged actions, people in our community, who in many cases are the friends and neighbors of the 2,300 people who work here, now face the challenge of a potentially chronic disease,” Kevin Callahan, president and CEO of Exeter Hospital, told Reuters.
Kwiatkowski, who worked at the hospital since April 2011 and who was diagnosed with hepatitis C in 2010, was arrested on Thursday at a Massachusetts hospital, said Reuters, citing a statement by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Hampshire. Kwiatkowski was being treated for an undisclosed illness and will be taken into federal custody in New Hampshire when discharged, said authorities, wrote Reuters. He faces a 20-year prison sentence for drug tampering and up to four years for the controlled substance charge.
Born in Michigan, Kwiatkowski worked as a traveling contract medical technician in six other states. Officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Attorney’s office are looking into the potential for public health threats in the other states.
As we’ve explained, 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.
We’ve previously written that the CDC announced in 2009 that, based on its decade-long review, over 60,000 patients have been placed at risk for potentially deadly, blood-borne infectious diseases. According to the CDC, over the ten years prior to 2009, tens of thousands of American patients have been asked to undergo hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) testing because proper infection control practices were not followed. The CDC review of outbreak data indicated that, in that prior 10 years, there were 33 identified outbreaks that occurred outside of hospitals in 15 states, with 12 occurring in outpatient clinics, six taking place in hemodialysis centers, and 15 happening in long-term care facilities, for a total of 450 people acquiring HBV or HCV infections.