Hep C Outbreak Being Bungled

September 24, 2012

Exeter Hospital and New Hampshire state officials are being criticized by victims of the Hep C outbreak for their slow and inadequate handling of the situation.

If you aren’t familiar with the story, here’s a brief recap: David Kwiatkowski is a lab technician who worked at Exeter but also travelled and assisted in surgeries around the country. Diagnosed with Hep C a few years back, he has a pain addiction that he satisfied by “borrowing” patient syringes and refilling them with saline solution—a practice which put a thousand patients at Exeter Hospital, and many more around the country, at risk for Hep C.

Free testing is being offered to Kwiatkowski’s patients by hospitals he worked at. In New Hampshire, patients have faced delays, botched tests, and other inconveniences while they wait to hear if Hep C will change their life. Since Hepatitis C symptoms don’t appear until they’re bad enough it’s too late, early diagnosis is key—and that means helping these patients find out if they got infected, and getting them started on Hepatitis C treatment (some have already had Hep C for years without knowing they were at risk!).

Now, patients say they’re having a hard time dealing with the state and Exeter, and voiced those concerns at a recent press conference. Hep C positive patients in other states are having trouble getting tied into the case against Kwiatkowski, arguing that they have the same strain, and that he was spreading it even earlier than has been confirmed by his own positive Hep C test.

Doctors have come out and said that attitudes within the profession need to change; previously, a drug-addicted coworker was treated gently, since they clearly need help as well. But the size of this Hep C outbreak has made it clear that any hospital staff member addicted to pain meds is a risk to public health, and needs to be pulled out of work and given treatment much more quickly.

What should also be apparent is the risk that Hep C poses in general. New Hampshire isn’t the only state with a massive outbreak this year—Colorado also had several thousand patients possibly exposed to the virus due to a Denver dentist, and other states have had smaller outbreaks in the past.

Hepatitis C symptoms, if  they appear, look like a mild flu. Then Hepatitis C symptoms go quiet—and the liver is silently ravaged for years before failing, developing cancer, or having another severe complication.

Regular testing should be a part of everyone’s health routine—every 2-3 years at least. Even if you don’t consider yourself high risk, it’s hard to know with certainty that you haven’t been exposed. You may not even test positive right away, even if you have the virus, so delayed testing is also beneficial. It’s recommended everyone born between 1945 and 1965 get tested because of possible exposure to Hep C due to vaccination practices at the time.

Make sure to keep your immune system as strong as possible (read about that here)—not everyone exposed to the virus develops chronic infection.

What do you think? Share your thoughts below.

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