Las Vegas Clinics Tied to More Hep C Cases

Brian Labus, Southern Nevada Health District’s senior epidemiologist announced that investigators think they have identified nearly everyone who may have contracted <"">hepatitis C at two Las Vegas outpatient medical clinics, according to a recent Associated Press (AP) report.  “In putting everything together, we’ve identified 114 cases, in total, linked to the two clinics,” he said.

Hepatitis C is a typically asymptomatic, incurable blood disorder transmitted through blood-to-blood contact; often leads to chronic, long-term infection resulting in approximately 70% of those infected developing liver disease; is a risk factor for liver cancer; and can lead to liver transplantation. Hepatitis C can cause swelling of the liver, stomach pain, fatigue, and jaundice and, even with no symptoms, can slowly damage the liver, the AP points out.

“We still have some analysis to do,” Labus noted of the total, which represents an increase from the 86 reported in July, “but we don’t expect the numbers to change much.”  The AP reports that district officials say nine cases are the result of the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada’s and the Desert Shadow Endoscopy Center’s shoddy infection control practices. The other 105 people diagnosed with hepatitis C since becoming patients at the clinics could have contracted the disease in other ways, Labus said.  Health officials say those diagnosed are undergoing treatment.

Both clinics, which were affiliated with Dr. Dipak Desai—a prominent Nevada gastroenterologist who headed several endoscopy clinics in the Las Vegas area—have since been closed. Desai surrendered his license to practice medicine during health district and police investigations.  Meanwhile, he and other former clinic owners face over 120 lawsuits alleging medical negligence, as well as a separate class-action suit initiated by patients who did not fall ill but are claiming emotional distress.

The virus likely spread when clinic staff reused syringes, using a single dose of anesthesia medication on multiple patients, the district said.  Contamination would occur with the backflow of blood when patients with a blood-borne disease were injected with medication; that syringe, in turn, would be reused to withdraw medication from a different vial, contaminating that vial and resulting in infection.  The Southern Nevada Health District said that the unsafe practices had been in place for several years.

The AP reports that Labus said about 50,000 former Endoscopy Center patients and 13,000 former Desert Shadow Center patients were notified to receive testing for hepatitis B, C, and HIV.  To date, there have been no links between the outbreak and any hepatitis B or HIV cases.  HIV is the virus that causes AIDS, and is transmitted through the exchange of bodily fluids, including blood-to-blood contact.  Meanwhile, 7,331 people provided the agency with medical information.  Labus is planning to distribute a final report to district administrators by January 2, the one-year anniversary of the when the massive outbreak was first discovered.

The widow of one of the clinic’s former patients filed a lawsuit alleging that her 60-year-old husband’s death and hepatitis C diagnosis were related to the clinic’s shoddy medical practices.  The man died in 2006.  The health district maintains that there have been no deaths linked to the outbreak, said the AP.

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