Patients Sue NH Hospital over Hepatitis C Outbreak

By Amir Khan on July 6, 2012 8:18 AM EDT

Hepatitis C
Electron micrographs of hepatitis C virus purified from cell culture (Photo: Creative Commons)

New Hampshire's Exeter Hospital is facing legal action and dozens of lawsuits stemming from an outbreak of Hepatitis C linked to its cardiac catheterization lab. As of July 1, approximately 60 patients have filed suit against the hospital, alleging that they contracted the disease while in the hospital.

Cases were first reported in May and June, and officials said the outbreak is likely the result of drug diversion -- the misuse of drugs for medicinal purposes, especially among healthcare workers. Healthcare workers may use narcotics prescribed for patients then pass    on diseases through contaminated syringes, which appears to be the case here.

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The hospital said it contacted all patients at risk and advised them to get tested for Hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C damages livers and causes jaundice killed over 15,000 people in 2007 and surpassed HIV-related deaths, which accounted for nearly 13,000 deaths, for the first time. Many of the 3.2 million people in the United States infected with hepatitis do not know it. Symptoms are either not present or very mild, which could leave the disease undiagnosed for decades.

Hepatitis C is treated with antivirals given over the course of a year and treatment is effective in approximately 40 percent of cases, according to the CDC. However, new drugs have the ability to boost that rate to 75 percent and take only six months to work

Knowing your status is one of the biggest weapons against hepatitis C, according to the CDC. The condition is treatable and people who are at-risk need to get tested.

Current or former injection drug users, including those who injected only once many years ago are at the highest risk, according to the CDC.  People who received a blood transfusion or organ transplant prior to July 1992 and people who received transfusions to help with blood clotting before 1987 should be tested as well.

Untreated hepatitis C is the primary cause of liver cancer and cirrhosis, which causes scarring of the liver. Liver transplants are common in people with the disease.

"[Hepatitis C] is a leading and preventable cause of premature death in the United States," Dr. Scott Holmberg, study authors and chief of epidemiology and surveillance in CDC's Division of Viral Hepatitis, told HealthDay.

"Early detection and intervention can be cost-effective and save lives," he said.

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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