New Hampshire health officials say an investigation of a hepatitis C outbreak originating in a hospital has found more infected patients.
The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Division of Public Health Services (DPHS) announced that ongoing testing of patients treated at Exeter Hospital’s Cardiac Catheterization Lab (CCL) and its recovery room since October 1, 2010 has found six more patients infected with a strain of the hepatitis C virus matching the Exeter Hospital outbreak. This brings the total number of people infected to 26 patients and 1 hospital employee.
Twelve additional patients have been identified with a hepatitis C strain different from the Exeter Hospital outbreak strain. The DPHS is sending blood samples from those patients to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for additional testing.
Hepatitis C is a viral infection that damages the liver. Routes of hepatitis C infection include contact with infected blood, sexual contact with an infected person, sharing of needles with infected person, receipt of contaminated blood or blood products, use of contaminated equipment during tattoo or acupuncture, sharing of toothbrush or razor with an infected person.
Officials are investigating the possible source of the contamination being drug diversion, when a hospital employee uses drugs in syringes meant for patients, then puts the syringes back, according to CBS News.
Seacoastonline.com reports that about 1,100 blood samples from patients have already been sent to the state for testing.
Exeter Hospital said less than 100 patients remain untested.
“This is still very much an ongoing investigation,” said Dr. José Montero, Director of Public Health at DHHS. “We will continue to keep the public updated as new results and information are learned. We realize this situation is causing great concern to the public and we continue to work as quickly, but as carefully, as possible to conclude this investigation.”
Patients treated at Exeter Hospital’s Cardiac Catheterization Lab (CCL) or recovery room between October 1, 2010 and May 15, 2012 should have received a letter recommending testing for hepatitis C. Patients who have not yet been tested can call (603) 580-6124 to schedule having their blood drawn for testing.
“We are concerned for the patients and their families,” said Exeter Hospital in a statement. “Our primary focus remains on identifying all patients who may have been affected as quickly as possible so we can help them begin their treatment. We are continuing to do everything we can to ensure all patients who have tested positive have access to appropriate treatment, with no barriers to their care.”