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Exeter hepatitis C infections rise to 21

JASON SCHREIBER
Union Leader Correspondent

June 27. 2012 3:46PM

EXETER - Another person has been diagnosed with the same strain of hepatitis C linked to an outbreak at Exeter Hospital, bringing the total number of those infected to 21, state health officials announced Wednesday.

The latest patient was identified through testing being done on more than 1,000 patients who visited the hospital's cardiac catheterization lab and recovery room between Oct. 1, 2010 and May 25, 2012.

Of the 21 people infected, only one has been identified as a hospital employee.

State health officials have said they believe the blood-borne virus that can damage the liver was likely spread by an infected hospital worker who injected drugs meant for patients and then allowed the syringes to be used on the patients.

The outbreak - the first of its kind at a New Hampshire medical facility - is under investigation by several local, state and federal agencies.

The state's Division of Public Health Services is sending samples from all of the patients who tested positive for the virus to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for additional testing.

According to state officials, the results of the first six samples of patients with 'active hepatitis C' analyzed by the CDC on June 5 confirmed the findings by the state lab.

'We are confident in our testing results. However, given the implications of these tests, we want the CDC to independently validate our results and hopefully shed more light on the outbreak itself. We have tested over 1,000 samples from patients identified as being treated in the (cardiac catheterization lab) or its recovery room. The investigation is still ongoing, but we are working as quickly and as thoroughly as we can in close collaboration with Exeter Hospital to complete the necessary work,' Dr. Jos Montero, the state's public health director, said in a press release.

The test results have been on the state Department of Health and Human Services' website, www.dhhs.nh.gov.

Officials said patients treated at the cardiac catheterization lab or its recovery room between Oct. 1, 2010 and May 25, 2012 should have received a letter from Exeter Hospital recommending testing for hepatitis C. Blood draws can be scheduled through Exeter Hospital's Information and Referral Center at 580-6124.

Patients can also be tested at sites affiliated with Portsmouth Regional Hospital. Those sites are located at collection stations at 55 High St., Suite 104, in Hampton and the Pease International Tradeport at 26 Manchester Square in Portsmouth.


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