Nevada Hepatitis Lawsuits Will Go Forward

The first three civil trials concerning a <"">hepatitis C outbreak last year that is linked to two Nevada clinics, have been cleared to move forward by Chief U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Mike Nakagawa, said OHSOnline.

The plaintiffs’ lawsuits name the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada and a related clinic, which filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection this summer; the filing created an automatic trial delay, noted OHSOnline. Both the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada and The Desert Shadow Endoscopy Center, which were affiliated with Dr. Dipak Desai—a prominent Nevada gastroenterologist who headed several endoscopy clinics in the Las Vegas area—were closed following the debacle.

Desai surrendered his license to practice medicine during health district and police investigations and 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 who are claiming emotional distress due to the scandal.

Thousands of former patients were previously advised to undergo testing for hepatitis B; hepatitis C; and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. To date, there have been no links between the outbreak and any hepatitis B or HIV cases.

It is believed that shoddy infection control practices are to blame in the spread of the blood borne disease. The virus likely spread when clinic staff reused syringes, using a single dose of anesthesia medication on multiple patients, the health district in that state previously explained. Such contamination would occur with the backflow of blood when patients with a blood-borne disease, such as hepatitis C, were injected with medication; that syringe, in turn, would then be reused to withdraw medication from a different vial, contaminating that vial and resulting in infection when the contaminated syringe was used on the next patient. The Southern Nevada Health District said that the unsafe practices had been in place for several years.

OHSOnline explained that both of the clinics shut down after a February 2008 announcement by the Southern Nevada Health District that some 40,000 patients were potentially exposed to hepatitis C and other blood borne illnesses. 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 percent 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 Associated Press previously pointed out.

The first civil trial is set for the middle of next month and involves a man infected with hepatitis C that has been genetically linked to the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada, said OHSOnline.

Last year we wrote that 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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