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77 More Hepatitis C Victims Tied to Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada

May 9, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP Seventy seven more former patients of the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada have tested positive for hepatitis C, and their illnesses are likely the result of the unsanitary methods employed by the now-closed clinic.  The 77 cases of hepatitis C combined with those confirmed earlier bring the number of cases linked to clinics run by the same group of doctors to 85.

In February, the Southern Nevada Health District sent letters to 40,000 people treated at the clinic, advising them to get tested for hepatitis B and C, and HIV. The Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada has been under investigation since early January, after health officials learned of three people who had been diagnosed with hepatitis C after being treated there. Ultimately, the Southern Nevada Health District said a total of six people were known to have contracted hepatitis C after being treated at the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada. Five of them were treated the same day in late September; the sixth is believed to have been infected in July, the district said. The Southern Nevada Health District investigation revealed that “unsafe injection practices related to the administration of anesthesia medication might have exposed patients to the blood of other patients.” In March, a seventh hepatitis C victim, who had been treated at a clinic owned by the same group that owns the Endoscopy Center, was identified.

The hepatitis C virus may have been spread when clinic staff reused syringes and used a single dose of anesthesia medication on multiple patients, the district said. A syringe would become contaminated by the backflow of blood when patients with a blood-borne disease were injected with medication, health officials said. That syringe, in turn, would be reused to withdraw medication from a different vial. That vial could become contaminated and result in infection.  The Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada also regularly performed 2-minute surgeries and reused other disposable devices.  

The 77 people are among about 400 former patients of the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada who tested positive for the potentially deadly virus since the outbreak was made public Feb. 27, and who provided no other risk factors during follow-up interviews.  Authorities can't say for sure how the 77 people were infected, but they know each was treated from March 2004 to Jan. 11 this year at the clinic.  None of the 77 had tested positive for hepatitis C prior to their treatment at the clinic.

Officials determined the more than 300 other patients who also tested positive and were interviewed could have contracted the virus through other means, including intravenous drug use, blood transfusions, organ transplants or kidney dialysis, receiving blood clotting agents before 1987, or sexual contact with a person with hepatitis C.  Health officials in Nevada still have to conduct interviews with dozens of other hepatitis C victims to determine if their infections could have originated at the Endoscopy Center.

The Endoscopy Center was owned by doctors Dipak Desai and Eladio Carrera, whose Nevada medical licenses have been suspended pending state Board of Medical Examiners hearings.  The Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada is  the subject of a criminal probe being conducted by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, the FBI, the Nevada Attorney General's office and the Clark County district attorney.

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