A drugged-up Exeter Hospital employee likely caused a hepatitis C outbreak at Exeter Hospital that has infected at least 20 people, the state's public health director said today.
Dr. Jose Montero declined to identify the employee, who could be the same employee officials have said has the disease.
He said the employee likely spread the disease in the hospital's cardiac catheterization lab through "drug diversion." That's when a hospital worker feeds a drug habit by injecting him/herself with drug-filled syringes, replacing them with saline or water, and then allowing them to be used on unsuspecting patients as if they were still filled with drugs.
The Exeter Hospital employee will likely face criminal charges. A Colorado woman who spread hepatitis C by drug diversion was recently sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Montero said today six more patients have tested positive for the same strain of hepatitis C, bring the victim total to 20. He said he expects that total to rise, as test results on hundreds of patients who were treated at the cath lab are still coming in.
Montero added investigators are expanding a testing pool to include patients who were treated at the lab from Oct. 1, 2010 to last month. Test results take seven to 10 days to process.
Hepatitis C is a chronic and sometimes deadly liver disease. It's especially lethal in older patients. At least one of the 20 victims is over the age of 55. That person is also suffering from lung cancer.
"It's disturbing," Montero said. "No one expects to go to a hospital to get sick."
When reached by Exeter Patch, Exeter Hospital did not comment directly on Montero's revelation about how an employee likely caused the outbreak.
"As far as drug testing is concerned, we do not do drug testing for permanent employees," said hospital spokesman Ryan Lawrence in an e-mail message. "However, we do require drug testing for travelers or temporary clinical staff who rotate through our units."
Above is a live blog of a news conference Montero held today with reporters.
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