Thousands of Patients Being Checked for Hepatitis C

Expanded testing would include 6,000 people who were treated in operating rooms or ICU at Exeter Hospital in New Hampshire, where a medical technician faces charges. He worked at hospitals in seven states, CNN reported.

World Hepatitis Day on July 28 is especially significant this year because thousands of people who were treated at hospitals in six states are being tested to see whether they were infected with Hepatitis C during their hospitalization because of the actions of David Kwiatkowski, a medical technician now facing charges in New Hampshire.

The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services' Division of Public Health Services on July 24 expanded its testing recommendations for a hepatitis C outbreak at Exeter Hospital, where Kwiatkowski had worked. The division asked that about 6,000 people -- everyone who was a patient in the hospital's operating rooms and its intensive care unit between April 1, 2011, and May 25, 2012 -- be tested for possible exposure to hepatitis C.

"As part of our investigation, we have uncovered additional information that has indicated the suspect, while working in the hospital's Cardiac Catheritization Lab, may also have accessed these other areas of the hospital," said Public Health Director Dr. José Montero. "As we have said, this investigation is ongoing, and additional testing may be necessary to help all patients who may have been infected. While the risk of exposure to this newly identified group of patients is very low, we want to be take every measure to protect the public and so we are recommending that they come in to be tested."

There are five hepatitis viruses: types A, B, C, D, and E. Effective vaccines are available for all except C. Types B and C can be asymptomatic in their early stages for many infected people, who then become aware of their infection when they are chronically ill. These two are the leading cause of liver cirrhosis and cancer, accounting for almost 80 percent of all liver cancer cases, according to WHO. "The vast majority of people infected with hepatitis are unaware, undiagnosed, and untreated," said Dr. Sylvie Briand of WHO's Pandemic and Epidemic Disease Department. "Only by increasing awareness of the different forms of hepatitis, and how they can be prevented and treated can we take the first step towards full control of the disease and save thousands of lives."

Although Kwiatkowski worked at four hospitals in Maryland between May 2008 and March 2010, it's not clear that he was infected with the virus while working at them, The Baltimore Sun recently reported. CNN reported Kwiatkowski worked as a traveling medical technician on a contract basis for hospitals in Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, New York, and Pennsylvania. He is charged with illegally obtaining Fentanyl and infecting 30 patients at Exeter Hospital with hepatitis C.

Both Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C, can lead to chronic, life-long infections. While Hepatitis B is vaccine-preventable, most people who become infected with Hepatitis C later develop a chronic infection, according to CDC.

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