An outbreak of Hepatitis C has been identified in New Hampshire. Ten people have already been diagnosed, and a call for hundreds more to get tested for Hepatitis C has been put out. Where did all this Hepatitis C transmission occur? Their local cardiac catheterization laboratory at Exeter Hospital.
It’s not clear what in the lab caused the virus to spread. In most cases of Hepatitis C transmission at hospitals the most likely culprit is a staff member with a drug problem, who “borrows” pain medication from pre-filled needles, leaving behind a trace of their blood and the Hepatitis C. One staff member has already tested positive for the liver disease.
Of course, one of the problems with Hepatitis C is that it’s quite easy to spread and quite hard to catch without a test. Anything from equipment that hasn’t properly been sterilized to a hole in hygiene routines could have caused this outbreak.
What may be more bothersome is of the ten people positively identified as having Hepatitis C, not all of their strains can be tied back to the lab. Indeed, a growing number of Hepatitis C cases are undiagnosed. The liver disease can be silent for years, causing continuing damage until the worst symptoms appear. Early Hepatitis C symptoms can look like the common flu, and can appear as late as six months after contact with the virus.
Everyone should get tested regularly—women can request a yearly test with their OB/GYNs, and men should also request a test at a yearly check up. Hepatitis C is so transmissible that it’s proving hard to stamp out transmission rates, and anyone born between 1945-65 may have been exposed in the time where needles were reused by medical professionals without a second thought.
It’s all too easy to have Hepatitis C and be completely unaware! And there are many innocent paths to exposure. In the New Hampshire outbreak, testing is going back on all employees and patients since 2001—meaning it may have taken them more than ten years to catch this outbreak!
How do you feel about this latest outbreak? Let us know in the comments!