Hepatitis scare at US hospital

2009-07-16 11:03

Denver - A hospital in New York state is notifying about 2 800 patients of possible exposure to hepatitis C after learning that a former employee is suspected of exposing nearly 6 000 patients in Colorado to the disease.

The New York State Health Department said on Wednesday that it's working with Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco after learning that Kristen Diane Parker, 26, worked there between October 8, 2007, and February 28, 2008. The agency is recommending that patients who had surgery then should be tested.

Colorado health officials believe Parker, who is facing federal charges, may have exposed patients to hepatitis C while working as a surgery technician at Denver's Rose Medical Centre and Audubon Ambulatory Surgery Centre in Colorado Springs. She is accused of injecting herself with painkillers meant for patients, then filling the used syringes with saline solution, even though she knew she was infected.

Ten cases of hepatitis C have been linked to Rose Medical Centre, where Parker worked until April. Health officials are conducting tests to determine if the cases are definitively linked to her.

Parker was arrested earlier this month and faces federal charges of tampering with a consumer product, creating a counterfeit controlled substance, and obtaining a controlled substance by deception or subterfuge. She is being held without bond. Her next court hearing is October 6.

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne disease that can cause serious liver problems, including cirrhosis or liver cancer. The illness is treatable, but there is no cure.

Rose Medical officials said Parker was advised that she tested positive for hepatitis C before starting her job there. She has said hospital officials didn't make it clear she tested positive.

People with hepatitis C are not barred from working in health services, so long as standard precautions are taken, according to the federal Centres for Disease Control.