June 6, 2013
Concord, NH – The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Division of Public Health Services (DPHS) is reporting a newly diagnosed case of hepatitis C infection associated with the outbreak at Exeter Hospital. DPHS has completed an investigation into the details of this case and transmission is believed to be due to sexual contact with one of the previously reported confirmed cases related to the outbreak. This new case was confirmed through laboratory testing at the Public Health Laboratory and has been identified as a strain of hepatitis C that matches the 32 patients infected at Exeter Hospital.
“As we said from the very beginning of this investigation more than a year ago, this is a very complex situation and this latest case is further evidence of that. Hepatitis C is a disease that is transmitted through exposure to blood containing the hepatitis C virus. While sexual transmission of hepatitis C is possible, it is very uncommon. In this particular case, there were medical circumstances that increased the risk of sexual transmission from person to person,” said DHHS Public Health Director Dr. José Montero.
Ways the virus can be transmitted to others also include sharing needles during illegal drug use, tattooing with a dirty needle, or contact with a non-sterile piece of medical equipment such as a used syringe.
DPHS began investigating the hepatitis C outbreak at Exeter Hospital in May of 2012. Prior to today’s announcement, the total number of people connected with the outbreak was 33, which includes the former Exeter Hospital healthcare worker who was charged in connection with the transmission of the virus through drug diversion.
Researchers agree that heterosexual transmission of hepatitis C is very unusual. Generally, for this to occur there has to be an exchange of blood. When a person has active hepatitis C infection, it is recommended that they refrain from sex while either partner is bleeding, including from cuts, blisters, or other skin breaks on the genitals.
For people in a long-term, monogamous heterosexual relationship with a partner who has hepatitis C, the risk is considered low and special precautions are not deemed necessary. Couples should, however, avoid sharing razors, toothbrushes, and nail clippers or other equipment that could lead to blood exposure.
Following national guidelines, DPHS does not recommend routine testing for monogamous couples. However, any partner of an HCV positive person who is concerned for their health, or who has sexual practices or health conditions predisposing them to bleeding during sex, should consult with their healthcare provider about being tested.
For concerns about hepatitis C, contact the DHHS Bureau of Infectious Disease Control at 603-271-4496 or 1-800-852-3345 x4496. For more information about hepatitis C, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/index.htm. For information about the outbreak at Exeter Hospital, visit the DHHS website at www.dhhs.nh.gov/dphs/cdcs/hepatitisc/hepc-investigation.htm.