States investigate 'ultimate con artist' in hep C outbreak

Public health officials and hospitals in New York, Michigan, Arizona, Georgia, Maryland and Kansas are contacting hundreds of patients that may have been exposed to hepatitis C by the 'serial infector,' who was arrested in Massachusetts Thursday, The Boston Globe and the Associated Press reported.

Following the first reported cases at New Hampshire's Exeter Hospital, others states now are looking into the work history of David Kwiatkowski, a traveling lab technician who allegedly spread the virus by stealing Fentanyl and leaving behind contaminated syringes to be used on patients.

Massachusetts authorities arrested and charged Kwiatkowski for obtaining controlled substances by fraud and tampering with a consumer product. He faces 20 years in prison, if convicted.

Among the hospitals investigating the outbreak is Baltimore's Johns Hopkins Hospital, which on Friday confirmed Kwiatkowski worked in its cardiac catheterization lab from July 10, 2009, to Jan. 9, 2010, the Union Leader reported. The hospital is contacting about 200 patients who "may have had procedures" in the lab where Kwiatkowski worked and is offering free testing.

U.S. Attorney John Kacavas said he will not identify other states or facilities where Kwiatkowski previously worked and is leaving that up to public health officials in those states.

The Michigan Department of Community Health also said it is working with facilities in Michigan, where Kwiatkowski is from, to confirm employment history, the Union Leader reported.
Kwiatkowski tested positive for the virus in June of 2010, according to investigators.

As states continue to investigate the extent of the infection, the question now turns to whether the hospitals are responsible for the outbreak.

Exeter Hospital said it conducted the state background check and a health evaluation--which typically does not include a hepatitis C screening--when it hired Kwiatkowski as a full-time employee in October, according to The Boston Globe.

Thomas Wharton, Exeter Hospital's medical director of the cardiac unit, called Kwiatkowski the "ultimate con artist." Nevertheless, others are asking how drug-seeking behavior could have gone unnoticed for years across multiple states.

The events "demonstrate a shocking level of negligence and lack of due diligence," Attorney Alfred Catalfo III of ­Dover, N.H., who represents 10 ­infected patients, told The Boston Globe. "There were red flags all over the place that were ignored."

For more information:
- here's the Boston Globe article
- read the Union Leader article
- see the AP article

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