US hospital worker gets 39 years

Concord - A travelling medical technician was sentenced Monday to 39 years in prison for stealing painkillers and infecting dozens of patients in four US states with hepatitis C through tainted syringes.

"I don't blame the families for hating me," David Kwiatkowski said after hearing about 20 statements from people he infected and their relatives. "I hate myself".

Kwiatkowski, 34, was a cardiac technologist in 18 hospitals in seven states before being hired at New Hampshire's Exeter Hospital in 2011.

Kwiatkowski admitted stealing painkillers and replacing them with saline-filled syringes tainted with his blood. He pleaded guilty in August to 16 federal drug charges.

He had moved from job to job despite being fired at least four times over allegations of drug use and theft. Since his arrest last year, 46 people have been diagnosed with the same strain of hepatitis C he carries.

Prosecutors had pushed for a 40-year prison sentence, saying he created a "national public health crisis," put a significant number of people at risk and caused substantial physical and emotional harm to a large number of victims.

Defence lawyers argued that a 30-year sentence would better balance the seriousness of the crimes against Kwiatkowski's mental and emotional problems and his addiction to drugs and alcohol, which they said clouded his judgement.

In all, 32 patients were infected in New Hampshire, seven in Maryland, six in Kansas and one in Pennsylvania. Kwiatkowski, 34, also worked in Michigan, New York, Arizona and Georgia.

Two of the 16 charges stem from the case of a Kansas patient who has since died. Authorities say hepatitis C, a blood-borne virus that can cause liver disease and chronic health problems, played a contributing role.

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