Four Infected in Exeter Hepatitis C Outbreak
It likely originated in an Exeter Hospital lab.
UPDATE, 2:39 p.m.: Exeter Hospital officials today said they are unsure how four of their patients contracted the same strain of hepatitis C during what they termed a "limited" outbreak of the liver disease.
The outbreak likely originated in the cardiac catheterization lab, officials said today at a 2 p.m. news conference. More than 650 patients and nearly 30 staff members who used the lab over the last few months are being called in for testing to make sure the disease didn't spread to them, too.
"We are taking the situation seriously," said hospital President Kevin Callahan.
Officials said they were confident the outbreak was "limited" but said they are bringing in the hundreds of patients for testing as a precaution. They added they are conducting a thorough investigation and will soon release more information about the exact cause of the outbreak when they learn it.
Officials declined to identify the four infected patients or provide their gender and age. The patients contracted the disease around the middle of this month.
Officials said some patients showed symptoms before they were diagnosed with hepatitis C, which is a chronic but treatable disease.
It was the first case in New Hampshire history of a hepatitis C outbreak at a hospital, according to officials.
The cath lab at the center of the outbreak has been closed for the time being.
One of the more prominent recent hospital outbreaks of the disease was in 2002 when at least 10 cancer patients contracted hepatitis C at a Nebraska hospital because needles were reused to treat them.
As part of the investigation, together with the Division of Public Health Services, Exeter Hospital said it is in the process of proactively reaching out via phone and letters to all patients who received care in the cardiac cath lab since Aug. 1, 2011 to recommend they return for hepatitis C testing.
Exeter Hospital is providing the confidential testing at no charge for these patients and has arranged for multiple dates and times. Test results will take 7 to 10 days and results will be sent directly to the patient’s primary care physician.
Together with the Division of Public Health Services, the hospital said it is doing its best to make the process "as accommodating and supportive as possible for patients."
A dedicated phone line has been set up through Exeter Hospital’s Information and Referral Center to assist patients and schedule tests. The referral center has extended its hours to 7 a.m. through 7 p.m., Monday through Friday.
The hospital said it will continue to work closely with the New Hampshire Division of Public Health, and if there are any questions, individuals are encouraged to call them at (603) 271-4496. Further information and updates will be released as they become available.
Exeter Hospital and the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services will hold a press conference this afternoon after four patients were recently diagnosed with hepatitis C.
According to a DHHS press release, testing recently confirmed that four individuals were diagnosed with an identical strain of hepatitis C. Additional information will be released at the press conference, which is scheduled for 2 p.m. at the hospital.