Investigation Of Hep C Outbreak Ongoing

November 12, 2012

Remember the outbreak of Hep C centered around Exeter Hospital in New Hampshire? If not, a brief recap: a lab tech (David Kwiatkowski, arrested in July) was addicted to pain medication, and in a story common to hospital-centered Hep C outbreaks, “borrowed” patient medication, replacing it with water—but in sharing a needle, he transmitted his Hep C infection.

The outbreak was centered around Exeter heart catheter lab, but Kwiatkowski travelled for work and several other states were implicated. Over ten thousand people have been identified as at risk for Hep C, but that estimate only goes back to Kwiatkowski’s positive Hep C test. Some hospitals that he’s worked at have proactively notified his patients, and found a few who had the same Hep C strain.

Months later, more states are still finding his victims (yes, he knew he was positive for Hep C when he shared needles with patients). New Hampshire and Exeter have had a hard time handling the Hep C outbreak, having to surmount the costs and logistics of testing thousands of people and then administering Hep C treatment. Patients diagnosed with Hep C not in the initial net sweep for victims have had a hard time getting recognized b the initial investigation.

News in the investigation is that hospitals ignored warning signs about the drug addicted tech—if he’d received treatment, and been put on leave (where he wouldn’t have been a risk to patients) the spread of Hep C may have been prevented. Fortunately, many hospitals are changing their policies to reduce future risk of Hep C transmission.

Hospitals are particularly ripe for Hepatitis C transmission when exposure occurs, since anyone in a hospital typically has a weakened immune system. Not everyone exposed to Hep C develops chronic Hep C, but having a weakened immune system gives the virus a better chance of causing a lifelong infection and ongoing liver disease.

Share your thoughts on hospital policy and the investigation below:

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