June 19, 2012 — After a major outbreak of hepatitis C in a New Hampshire hospital, federal authorities have decided to join the investigation. Experts from the FBI and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have been called in to help determine whether the outbreak is a criminal or a civil matter. State authorities have said that the outbreak is likely caused by a hospital employee diverting drugs, likely painkillers. So far, one hospital employee and 19 patients at Exeter Hospital have tested positive for hepatitis C. Hundreds may have been exposed.
Officials first suspected an outbreak after four people tested positive for the disease within a short amount of time. All four had recently been patients of one cardiac catheterization lab at Exeter Hospital.
Soon after health officials became aware of the outbreak, Exeter Hospital officials issued a press release to warn that everyone who had been treated at Exeter since October 2010 should undergo a blood test to see if they had contracted hepatitis C. In the press release, the hospital announced that they have contacted all identified patients by phone, including 316 newly identified patients in addition to the hundreds who were previously identified. Hospital officials say that they will continue conducting their own investigation while the FBI, FDA, and other investigations are ongoing.
The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office has launched an investigation, and a class action lawsuit has also been filed. The lawsuit is seeking damages from 23 people who either contracted hepatitis C or are seeking damages for paying for medications that they never received. The hospital is accused of failing to adequately supervise their employees.
It is unknown whether the outbreak was caused by an employee diverting drugs, but it is likely the cause of the outbreak. Drug diversion is an illegal practice in which an employee steals syringes loaded with painkillers, injects themselves with the drugs, and then replaces the empty syringe filled with water or saline. When the patient is injected with the dirty needle, they are exposed to the employee’s blood pathogens, as well as receiving no painkillers before surgical operations.
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