Concord, NH – The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Division of Public Health Services (DPHS) is today announcing additional results related to the testing of patients who had been treated at Exeter Hospital’s Cardiac Catheterization Lab (CCL). The NH Public Health Labs (PHL) has identified an additional 6 cases that match the strain of hepatitis C recently diagnosed in 14 people already associated with the CCL, bringing the total number of related cases to 20. Of these 20, 1 is also an Exeter Hospital employee. All 20 individuals have been notified.
“These new test results are not surprising,” said Public Health Director Dr. José Montero. “We know that this is a very troubling situation and our thoughts go out to all those who have been affected.”
Since early on in the investigation, the common link among all of the cases was treatment at Exeter Hospital’s CCL and its post procedure room. Exeter Hospital has been cooperating and working closely with DPHS throughout the investigation, since they reported the first cases to DPHS in mid-May.
DPHS is also today announcing the expansion of patients to be tested. Now, anyone treated at the CCL or its recovery room on or after October 1, 2010 through May 25, 2012, is being asked to be tested for hepatitis C. This is a change from testing recommendations set last week at April 1, 2011. Exeter Hospital is in the process of contacting these newly identified patients.
In addition, DPHS believes the most likely explanation of this outbreak is drug diversion. Drug diversion is when a person injects themselves with medications intended for patients and consequently infects patients with a disease such as hepatitis C. “This has been a complicated and time-consuming investigation and it is not over yet,” said Montero. “We will continue to follow up leads and will announce new information as it becomes available.”
Because of the lengthy and detailed investigation, DPHS had previously determined that the Cath Lab was safe to return to normal operations because there was no evidence of contaminated equipment, which can be another cause for this type of outbreak. Full operations of the CCL resumed on June 5th.
To date 696 samples have been submitted to the PHL, and 613 have been finalized. Once testing is complete, DPHS is contacting patients with their test results, whether positive or negative to help speed up the notification process.
Hepatitis C is a viral infection transmitted by blood. It causes inflammation of the liver that can lead to chronic health issues. It is passed from person to person through contact with an infected person’s blood.
Any patients who fit the above criteria can contact Exeter Hospital’s Information and Referral Center to make an appointment for testing at (603) 580-6124. For questions and information about hepatitis C visit www.dhhs.nh.gov/dphs/cdcs/hepatitisc/index.htm or www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/index.htm or call the DPHS Bureau of Infectious Disease Control at 603-271-4496.