June 21, 2012
Officials from the Food and Drug Administration and the FBI will help in the ongoing investigation into a hepatitis C virus (HCV) outbreak at the cardiac catheterization lab at Exeter Hospital, US Attorney John Kacavas said Tuesday.
To date, a hospital worker and 19 patients at the heart lab have tested positive for HCV. The outbreak came to light last month after four people with identical HCV strains were diagnosed around the same time, and the lab was the only common link. State health officials suspect that an employee may have stolen medication meant for patients, injecting it and then reusing the syringes on people undergoing cardiac catheterization.
"This case presents a matter of public health and safety, and we have statutory authority at the federal level that fits these precise circumstances," said Kacavas.
The state attorney general's office also is investigating the outbreak, and a Concord lawyer is preparing a class-action lawsuit alleging the hospital was negligent in supervising its staff. The hospital is not commenting on the lawsuit or the investigation.
State and local health departments are not required to report such outbreaks to CDC, though the agency was notified of 13 nationwide between 2008 and 2011. Of those, seven were linked to outpatient facilities; most were the result of unsafe injection practices; and at least two have resulted in criminal charges.