Hepatits B outbreak linked to NJ oncologist

A New Jersey oncologist is suspected of causing a Hepatitis B outbreak, according to public health officials. Since February, the New Jersey Health Department has contacted about 3,000 cancer patients treated by Dr. Parvez Dara warning that they may have been exposed. The health department sent out the letters after at least five of Dara's patients were diagnosed with Hep B.

"The evidence that's available suggests the infections could be linked to the method the clinical staff used to administer injectable medications," such as chemotherapy, state health department spokesperson Marilyn Riley said.

The Associated Press reports that Investigators found blood on the floor of a room where chemotherapy was administered, blood in a bin where blood vials were stored, open medication vials and unsterile saline and gauze. They also reported cross-contamination of pens, refrigerators and counter tops, use of contaminated gloves and misuse of antiseptics.

"This was not a one-time episode," New Jersey Deputy Attorney General Siobhen Krier said. "This is a case of egregious, bad medical judgment displayed over a long period of time."

Dara, who has offices in Toms River, has been suspected of exposing his patients to HIV, Hepatitis C and Hep B as far back as 2002. Since 2002, he has paid $56,000 in fines for health code violations. Last week, the state medical board suspended Dara's medical license on an emergency basis. Their decision noted "a significant and gross deficiency in judgment" that could not be remedied by changing office practices.

Other clinics throughout the country, notably Nevada, have also exposed patients to blood-borne diseases through injectable drugs and transfusions. A recent Government Accountability Office report stated that ambulatory surgery centers and other outpatient facilities such as Dara's, are poorly overseen and require more regular inspections to ensure patient safety.

For more:
- see the Associated Press story