Utah Health Dept.: 11 new patients test positive for Hep. C during investigation

Posted at 9:18 AM, Apr 04, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-04 22:07:24-04

SALT LAKE CITY - The Utah Department of Health released the results of the investigation after a health care worker was accused of spreading Hepatitis C.

According to health officials, 11 new patients tested positive for the same type of Hepatitis C the health care worker had, during the investigation.

However, the health department would not confirm the worker is the one who infected the patients.

Officials said about 7,200 patients were at risk and only 52 percent of those patients got tested.

Hep c graphic

See the results from the Utah Dept. of Health here: 

The Utah Department of Health announced the on-going investigation of a hepatitis C outbreak associated with a health care worker who was employed at two northern Utah hospitals has identified the following:

Patients Notified of Potential Exposure Patients Tested Confirmed Cases of Hepatitis C, Genotype 2b
McKay-Dee Hospital 4,855 2,922 15
Davis Hospital 2,362 809 1
Total 7,217 3,731 16

Hepatitis C can be divided into several distinct genotypes based on genetic markers of the virus. The genotype associated with this outbreak was identified as 2b, and the UDOH focused its investigation on finding cases with a matching genotype.

Of the 15 genotype 2b cases from McKay-Dee Hospital, one is the original case, one is the health care worker, and six were found to be infected with hepatitis C prior to the investigation. Three of those six were known to be infected with genotype 2b prior to the investigation.

In addition to the 16 total genotype 2b cases, the investigation also identified 37 cases of hepatitis C with other genotypes. These additional cases are not considered to be associated with this investigation. Seven cases are currently pending genotype results.

“This investigation should show Utah residents their public health system is serving them well,” said Dr. Angela Dunn, a CDC epidemiologist stationed at the UDOH. “By partnering with the two hospitals we were able to identify an infectious health care worker, establish that the worker may have exposed patients, test those patients, and provide them with testing results. Everyone working on this outbreak should be proud of these accomplishments.”

Dr. Dunn will be available for media interviews today at 10:30 a.m. at the Cannon Health Building, 288 North 1460 West, Salt Lake City, room 125.

The UDOH launched the investigation in 2015 after tracing the likely exposure of a hepatitis C case to McKay-Dee Hospital. The investigation found a link to a health care worker who was infected with hepatitis C and was discovered to be taking drugs intended for patients and using them for other purposes. The scope of the investigation broadened after discovering the same health care worker was also previously employed at nearby Davis Hospital and Medical Center, and had admitted to engaging in similar behavior there.

“This investigation has been a massive undertaking for both the hospitals and for public health,” said Dunn. “We commend the hospitals for doing the right thing and ensuring their patients were alerted to the situation and provided free testing and access to treatment where necessary.”

Despite these efforts, there are many individuals who may have been exposed who have still not been tested. Both hospitals will continue to offer free testing to any patients who were notified of their potential exposure; and both continue to strongly recommend testing for those who haven’t yet been tested.

Hepatitis C is an infection of the liver that can cause both short and long-term illness. Symptoms can range from nausea, fever, joint pain, jaundice, cancer or death if left untreated. The disease is spread when the blood of an infected person enters the body of someone who is not infected. The majority of people infected with hepatitis C have no symptoms for up to 25 years.

The virus is typically transmitted by sharing needles, but epidemiologists aren’t sure if and how Elet Nielson transmitted the virus to patients.

“We`ll never be able to tell the timing. Who was infected first? All we know is that there`s associated they have the same hepatitis C virus with the same genotype, that`s all we can tell,” said Dr. Angela Dunn, CDC Epidemiologist.

Infected patients are receiving medical treatment that could last anywhere from six weeks to six months.

In the meantime, state health leaders plan to use the findings to make changes.

“We’ll be meeting with all of our partners including, community members, healthcare workers, facilities, DOPL to review lessons learned and improve the process,” said Dr. Angela Dunn, CDC Epidemiologist.

But the hospitals are already facing possible litigation. The local law firm, Feller and Wendt, tells Fox 13 they are representing well over a hundred patients who plan on filing a lawsuit against the hospitals. Thaddeus Wendt says they are working with other attorneys in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

For more information on this outbreak, and on hepatitis C, visit the UDOH website here.