Las Vegas Sun

July 31, 2015

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Large-scale hepatitis alert has no precedent

The campaign to notify 40,000 patients of a Las Vegas endoscopy and colonoscopy clinic that they might have been exposed to hepatitis B, hepatitis C or HIV is believed to be unprecedented in U.S. history, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

So far, six people have been diagnosed with hepatitis C after undergoing procedures at the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada, according to the Southern Nevada Health District.

Previously, the largest campaign to notify patients of possible exposure to hepatitis had been in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 2001. Health officials there had tried to notify more than 2,000 patients who had gastrointestinal exams at a medical clinic after eight patients tested positive for hepatitis C.

Seven of the infected patients had been hospitalized, alerting authorities to the outbreak. The source of the infection was never pinpointed.

Since 1999 the CDC has tracked 31 outbreaks of hepatitis C.

The largest outbreak of hepatitis C in North America — affecting 99 patients — was confirmed in 2002 in connection with an eastern Nebraska cancer clinic. Patients were infected from March 2000 through December 2001. In all cases a nurse, in removing blood from intravenous tubes, used the same syringe on more than one patient.

The most recent hepatitis C outbreak came to light in June when New York City anesthesiologist Dr. Harvey Finkelstein had to notify 600 patients on whom he performed outpatient procedures in August 2006 that they might have been infected. Three of his patients were confirmed to have the virus.

In Baltimore, Md., a 79-year-old retired ironworker developed a hepatitis C infection and died in 2004 after being injected with what might have been a tainted vial of technetium-99m, a radioactive liquid designed to allow doctors to trace blood vessels. A dozen other patients were infected in the same episode, apparently from the same syringe used on the man.

Another outbreak of hepatitis C occurred in a retirement home from blood-sugar testing in 2003 and 2004, when 71 patients were infected.

Hepatitis C, a virus that attacks the liver, typically is transmitted through infected blood or semen. The disease kills as many as 10,000 people a year in the United States, according to the CDC. The majority of hepatitis C cases are the result of illicit drug use.

Mary Manning can be reached at 259-4065 or at manning@lasvegassun.com.

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