August 2, 2012
A new round of hepatitis C testing could begin next week for some former patients of Exeter Hospital in New Hampshire, where a traveling medical technician is accused of stealing drugs at work and injecting himself with syringes later used on patients. About 30 people have tested positive for the same hepatitis C strain found in former technician David Kwiatkowski, 32. Federal officials last month charged Kwiatkowski with drug crimes.
The state health department announced mass testing clinics for last weekend but postponed them, citing concerns over privacy and potential liability for volunteers drawing blood. Officials are developing an orderly process to reduce the time patients spend waiting in line, and they hope testing can begin next week, said Dr. José Montero, director of the New Hampshire health department's division of public health.
The mass clinics intend to test more than 3,400 people who had been hospitalized while Kwiatkowski was working at Exeter Hospital. Almost 1,300 people already have been tested, including many hospital employees, Montero said Wednesday.
Kwiatkowski worked at an estimated 13 hospitals in eight states and potentially could have infected thousands of patients. He is believed to have contracted the virus at least two years ago.
Legislators in the eight states involved are filing bills to require random drug testing of technicians. The Patients Speak, a patients' rights group co-founded by former N.H. state representative Elenore Casey Cran, is calling for federal legislation that would establish national licensing of all medical technicians. Licensing now varies from state to state. The group also wants a national registry created to report professional misconduct by medical technicians.
The FBI, Food and Drug Administration, CDC, the US attorney's office in New Hampshire, and other agencies are investigating the case.
[PNU editor's note: According to the Associated Press, The Patients Speak, which is involved with several lawsuits related to the outbreak, will hold an informational meeting on Aug. 7 at 6 p.m. at the Exeter Inn.]