Drug-abusing hospital employee may have spread hepatitis C

New Hampshire health officials are investigating whether a hepatitis C outbreak that could involve hundreds of individuals at Exeter Hospital stemmed from a hospital employee abusing narcotics at the facility, The Union Leader reported.

As of Saturday, 14 people have tested positive for the same strain that has been linked to the hospital's cardiac catheterization lab, including one Exeter employee. But after almost three weeks of investigation, the source of the outbreak remains unknown, noted Foster's Daily Democrat.

NH Public Health Director Jose Montero named "drug diversion" by a hospital employee as a possible cause of infection. He cited hepatitis C outbreaks at other facilities that were traced back to an employee who transmitted the virus to patients via used syringes, noted the Daily Democrat.

In one such case, the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., notified 3,209 patients who may have been infected with hepatitis C by a former radiology technician, later identified by the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office as Steven Beumel. Mayo fired the former employee who stole pain medication intended for patients and put them at risk.

Meanwhile, some of Exeter's confirmed victims, as well as patients who think they may be infected, have been contacting two local attorneys who joined forces to conduct their own investigation to represent patients, Seacoast Online reported.

Attorney Alfred Catalfo said stories about the hepatitis C testing paint the hospital's response as inadequate and unsympathetic. "While money is one component, the other thing we can achieve with these folks is to make sure they're not being ignored by the system," attorney Paul Monzione told Seacoast Online. "We need to make sure folks are getting taken care of and getting the proper treatment."

The hospital said it's doing its best to make the screening process as quick and convenient as possible for patients, noted the Daily Democrat.

To learn more:
- read the Union Leader article
- here's the Foster's Daily Democrat article
- check out the Seacoast Online article