Update On New Hampshire Hep C Outbreak

June 19, 2012

SyringeIf you haven’t yet heard, there’s been a potentially massive outbreak of Hepatitis C that’s been attributed to Exeter hospital in New Hampshire. Going back ten years, all patients who used the cardiac catheter lab are being tested for Hepatitis C and a criminal investigation is underway.

First, the outbreak is being attributed to one employee who may have stolen pain medication from patients.

The projected scenario is this: patients in the cardiac lab have an operation that may take 5 or more hours, during which time a single syringe is used to occasionally administer pain medication (maybe it has 6 milliliters, so you get 2 here, 2 there). In the meantime, a drug-addicted employee can swipe the syringe, use it, replace the missing pain medication with saline solution, and return it to the procedure room.

If a patient has a blood borne illness, the hospital employee now has it and can spread it to the next patient he swipes a syringe from. What may be more concerning is that the person taking care of you is under the influence—if that employee is responsible for anything important, your life may be in immediate danger regardless of possible Hep C transmission.

To make matters worse (and potential victims angrier), Exeter hospital messed up the initial test results. Blood samples from those who were potentially exposed to Hepatitis C needed to be sent for testing within 72 hours—but Exeter let them sit around too long and patients had to be asked to come in and give another sample. Not surprisingly, many have asked the state to handle their case as they no longer trust the competence of Exeter.

Of over a thousand people receiving testing, twenty have already been identified as having Hepatitis C, including 1 hospital employee. More revealing figures will likely be out later this week.

What do you think? How can hospitals, society, patients, and regulators work together to prevent these sorts of outbreaks? Post your thoughts on our discussion board below:

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