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Other hospitals review record of technician who allegedly spread hepatitis C

New Hampshire Sunday News

July 20. 2012 8:24PM

The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore has begun contacting approximately 200 patients who may have been exposed to hepatitis C by the same man arrested in New Hampshire Thursday for allegedly infecting 30 patients here through contaminated syringes.

The New Hampshire Union Leader has learned that health departments in Georgia, Michigan and Maryland are investigating whether patients in those states may have been exposed to hepatitis C by David Kwiatkowski, a 32-year-old medical technician. In Maryland, the health department has identified four hospitals where Kwiatkowski worked from 2008 to 2010, including Johns Hopkins and the Baltimore V.A. Medical Center.

According to court records, Kwiatkowski was a 'traveler,' a temporary employee who worked at catheterization labs in six states starting in 2007. He began working at Exeter Hospital as a temporary employee in April 2011 and was hired full-time by the hospital to work in its cardiac catheterization lab that October.

After the first cases of hepatitis C at Exeter Hospital were reported in May, Kwiatkowski was suspended from his position and later terminated, according to the hospital.

Kwiatkowski, who is originally from Michigan, now faces federal charges for stealing narcotics meant for patients and exposing patients to hepatitis C through contaminated syringes. He was arrested Thursday at a Massachusetts hospital, where he is being treated for an undisclosed medical condition and 'under guard,' according to U.S. Attorney John Kacavas, whose office is prosecuting the case.

Johns Hopkins confirmed Friday that Kwiatkowski worked in its cardiac catheterization lab for 26 weeks, from July 10, 2009, to Jan. 9, 2010. The medical center has identified approximately 200 patients who 'may have had procedures' in the lab where Kwiatkowski worked during that time period, it said in a statement.

'As a precaution and to safeguard our patients' well-being, Johns Hopkins is in the process of contacting these patients and offering them free testing for hepatitis C and counseling as needed,' the statement said.

'While initial reports have revealed no clusters or unusual groupings of hepatitis C patients during this timeframe, Johns Hopkins infectious disease experts are continuing their investigation into whether any hospital patients were exposed to hepatitis C.'

Here in New Hampshire, Kwiatkowski has been charged with obtaining controlled substances by fraud, and tampering with a consumer product. He faces up to 24 years in federal prison, and potential fines for each offense of $250,000. Kacavas said he will not identify other states or health care facilities where Kwiatkowski previously worked; that's up to public health officials in those states, he said.

'I don't want to set off alarm bells for people who may not need to be panicked,' he said, noting investigators learned that Kwiatkowski tested positive for the virus in June of 2010. 'I'm not going to impair or jeopardize the protocols that these other public health departments need to put in place in order to notify people and set up epidemiological and testing protocols,' Kacavas said.

In a press release Friday evening, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said Kwiatkowski had worked in Maryland from 2008 to 2010 and 'may have exposed patients during his employment in four Maryland hospitals.'

The department identified those hospitals and the time periods in which Kwiatkowski worked there as: Baltimore Veterans Affairs Medical Center (May to November, 2008); Southern Maryland Hospital (December 2008 to February 2009); Johns Hopkins Hospital (July 2009 to January 2010) and Maryland General Hospital (January to March, 2010).

The Maryland health department, which is working with the four hospitals and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stated the hospitals 'will notify those patients who underwent certain procedures with instructions for follow-up.'

The health department noted it is unknown whether Kwiatkowski was infected with hepatitis C and posed a potential risk to patients when he worked in Maryland. And it stated, 'No documented incidents of drug diversion associated with Mr. Kwiatkowski have been reported in Maryland.'

Nicole Price, communications manager for Georgia's Department of Public Health, confirmed that department was recently notified of its involvement in 'a multi-state investigation into hepatitis C transmission.'

'The investigation is ongoing and the department is working to assist in outreach to all persons who may have been exposed,' Price said. She said the health department was relying on advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as its investigation proceeds.

Angela Minicuci, a spokesperson for Michigan Department of Community Health, also confirmed that state recently learned that Kwiatkowski had previously worked in health care facilities there. 'We are currently working with identified Michigan facilities to confirm employment history,' she said.

Melissa Dankel, spokesman for CDC, said Friday the agency is supporting the state health departments involved in the investigation. 'Each state is leading their own investigation into this,' she said.

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