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Nevada Hepatitis C Outbreak Tied to Las Vegas Clinic. Thousands Now At Risk for Hepatitis, HIV

Feb 28, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP Hepatitis C and other blood borne diseases now threaten thousands of people in Nevada, thanks to the unsafe way anesthesia was administered at the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada in Las Vegas.  At least six people who received treatment at the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada have already tested positive for Hepatitis C, but health officials in the state have urged another 40,000 to be tested for the virus, as well as HIV.

Hepatitis C is a blood disorder that is  transmitted through blood-to-blood contact. Hepatitis C for the most part is asymptomatic and often leads to chronic, and long-term infection resulting in approximately 70% of those infected developing liver disease.  Hepatitis C is a risk factor for liver cancer and can lead to the need for a liver transplant. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS, and is  transmitted through the exchange of bodily fluids, including blood-to-blood contact.  

The Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada Health has been under investigation since early January, after health officials learned of three people who had been diagnosed with Hepatitis C.   According to the Southern Nevada Health District, a total of  six people 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,” the statement said.

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 Southern Nevada Health District said that the unsafe practices had been in place for several years at the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada,  and may have put others at risk. About 40,000 patients who received injections of anesthesia at the clinic will be told of the potential exposure in letters arriving next week.  Anyone who received anesthesia at the clinic from March 2004 to Jan. 11 should be tested for the virus, along with Hepatitis B and HIV. The Southern Nevada Health Districts patient notification will be the largest of its kind in the country.

This is not the first time an outbreak of Hepatitis was blamed on medical practitioners who reused syringes or reused multidose vials of anesthesia on more than one patient.  Late last year, the New York State Department of Health warned thousands of people treated by Long Island anesthesiologist Harvey Finkelstein that they were at risk for Hepatitis C, B and HIV. Finkelstein also was known to reuse syringes. At least one person is known to have contracted Hepatitis C as a result of Finkelstein's unsanitary practices, and another six patients tested positive for the disease, although it is not absolutely certain that the virus was the result of Finkelstein's treatment.  Another six tested positive for Hepatitis B.

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