Health Officials Warn Of Hepatitis C Scare, Urge Testing

Three pills and a hypodermic needle
Some patients should get tested for hepatitis C if they were treated at four local hospitals linked to a traveling health care worker accused of infecting patients with the virus, state officials recently announced.

The suggestion comes as federal authorities this month charged Michigan native David Kwiatkowski, who is accused of injecting himself with stolen narcotics, contaminating syringes and infecting patients with the hepatitis C virus while working at a hospital in New Hampshire.

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Thirty patients have been diagnosed with the same strain of hepatitis C as Kwiatkowski, 33, who has had the virus since at least June 2010.

Besides Michigan, Kwiatkowski worked in Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania before being hired in New Hampshire in April 2011. He told officials he had hepatitis C, a blood-borne viral infection that leads to inflammation of the liver and chronic health issues, in May. But evidence suggests he may have had it much longer.

“Hepatitis C is a chronic condition that can damage the liver for many years without noticeable symptoms,” said Dean Sienko, interim chief medical executive of the Michigan Department of Community Health. “Our goal of recommending testing is to ensure the appropriate use of the modern medicine now available to prevent deaths from hepatitis.”

Testing has been recommended for nearly 5,000 patients in New Hampshire, but Michigan Department of Community Health spokeswoman Angela Minicuci was unable to estimate how many Michigan patients should be tested.

Michigan’s investigation showed Kwiatkowski worked in six Michigan hospitals from 2003-07. Kwiatkowski at one time tested negative for hepatitis C, excluding patients from getting tested at two hospitals where he worked.

Of particular interest to state officials are patients treated at the following hospitals during the indicated time frames.

• Sinai Grace Hospital, June-October 2005, (888) 300-3627, for patients who underwent procedures in interventional radiology that required intravenous narcotics

• Harper Hospital, October 2005 to September 2006, (888) 300-3627, for patients who underwent procedures in the cardiac catheterization laboratory
Patients treated at the hospitals below during the timeframes should also contact the hospital. Officials will help determine if there was a risk of infection.

Hepatitis C Symptoms

Many people who are infected with hepatitis C do not have symptoms.

If the infection has been present for many years, the liver may be permanently scarred, a condition called cirrhosis. In many cases, there may be no symptoms of the disease until cirrhosis has developed.

The following symptoms could occur with hepatitis C infection:

• Abdominal pain (right upper abdomen)
• Ascites
• Bleeding varices (dilated veins in the esophagus)
• Dark urine
• Fatigue
• Generalized itching
• Jaundice
• Loss of appetite
• Low-grade fever
• Nausea
• Pale or clay-colored stools
• Vomiting