Maryland Hospitals Offer HCV Testing to Exposed Patients

The number of people potentially exposed to hepatitis C by an infected contract worker is expanding.

Four hospitals in Maryland are offering free hepatitis C testing to about 1,750 people who were patients during the time medical technician David Kwiatkowski worked at the hospitals, The Baltimore Sun's Andrea K. Walker reported Aug. 12. The Kwiatkowski case has spread across at least seven states, and more than 1,000 patients in New Hampshire have scheduled testing at clinics that are available through Aug. 18.

The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services' Emergency Services Unit declared a public health incident for the State of New Hampshire on Aug. 9 in response to the hepatitis C outbreak there. DHHS said call center staffers are trying to schedule appointments for about 3,300 patients in all who were recently recommended for testing following the outbreak at Exeter Hospital, and 32 people were confirmed infected, including Kwiatkowski, as part of the outbreak as of Aug. 9. Patients being tested include anyone treated in the hospital's main operating rooms or ICU, but not its outpatient surgery center, between April 1, 2011, and May 25, 2012.

DHHS officials said the declaration allows it to seek outside assistance with the clinics. "While such a declaration is an unusual event, we've taken this step to ensure the safety of everyone who is assisting us in this extensive undertaking," said DHHS Commissioner Nicholas Toumpas. "While these clinics are the most efficient and effective way to test this many patients in a short amount of time, planning and carrying out these clinics involves many people working behind the scenes. Without them, we wouldn't be able to host the clinics. I would like to thank all our regional partners and volunteers for their willingness to help the citizens of the state during this stressful time."

"We have made great effort to reach out to each identified patient, including calling them and mailing each of them a letter, to make sure they know what their choices are for testing," said ESU Director Rick Cricenti. Testing at Exeter Hospital is taking place Aug. 13-15.

Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene officials are examining how medical contract workers are regulated in that state and also may look to strengthen controls over access to narcotics in hospitals, a departmental spokeswoman said. "We're working with the [four] hospitals. We're in the middle of the investigation, so we don't have much information to release," the spokeswoman said.

"This is an extraordinary event, and we want a very aggressive review by the public health team for the purpose of patient safety. We want to shed light on any weakness in our health system that could result in this kind of transmission," Frances B. Phillips, deputy secretary at the department, told The Sun's Walker.

Kwiatkowski, who faces federal drug charges, allegedly injected himself with stolen narcotics while working at hospitals and left the used syringes, allowing them to be reused on some patients.

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