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Key questions remain in hepatitis C outbreak investigation

By Mark Shenefelt - | Feb 1, 2016

OGDEN — It’s been three months since McKay-Dee Hospital and Davis Hospital and Medical Center alerted 7,200 patients they may have been exposed to hepatitis C by an infected nurse who worked at both places.

However, much remains unknown publicly about the extent of the outbreak.

What has been disclosed so far, either by hospital spokesmen, the Utah Department of Health or the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, includes:

  • On. Nov. 9, 2015, McKay-Dee said it did not plan to release any information about how many people have been tested for hepatitis C, citing patient privacy concerns.

  • On Nov. 11, 2015, McKay-Dee announced that of the first 1,100 people tested, none tested positive for any strain of hepatitis C. That was the last time McKay-Dee released any information about the testing results. It since has deferred to UDOH, which is conducting the investigation. Davis Hospital also has deferred to the state.

  • On. Jan 6, a CDC doctor stationed in Salt Lake City — Angela Dunn — said cases of hepatitis C infection “have been trickling in throughout the investigation.” Of patients who have tested positive for the virus so far, some were infected with hepatitis C genome 2b, the variant first identified in the outbreak, Dunn said. Others had different variants of hepatitis C.

  • Fewer than half of the potentially exposed patients at the two hospitals have come forward for testing, UDOH said — 35 percent as of Jan. 6 and 42 percent as of Jan. 29.

Questions remaining to be answered include:

  • How many of the tested patients have tested positive for hepatitis C — either the genotype 2b strain the infected nurse had or other hepatitis C strains? None of the authorities have revealed any of these results, making it difficult to assess the extent of the public health treat posed by the outbreak.

  • When will testing be completed and when will results be reported publicly? UDOH says a final report will be issued about the investigation, perhaps sometime in April. Spokeswoman Jenny Johnson said Monday it will take another six weeks or more to complete testing from patients at both hospitals. Only after testing is completed will the state compile and announce the results, she said.

McKay-Dee said Monday, Feb. 1 it will still honor the offer if any remaining affected patients come forward.

“Even though our published date is over, we’ll continue to offer free testing to someone who might be on the list,” spokesman Chris Dallin said by phone. “We want to make sure we’re thorough.”

The hospital also wants to follow through because it is cognizant of the public health issue of potentially undiagnosed and untreated hepatitis C cases, he said.

McKay-Dee sent a letter Oct. 31, 2015 to about 4,800 patients who may have been exposed to hepatitis C while being treated by a nurse who had been diagnosed with the virus. The letter offered free testing through Jan. 31, 2016.

In November, Davis Hospital and Medical Center in Layton alerted 2,800 patients of possible hepatitis C exposure. The infected nurse had worked there before moving to McKay-Dee. Davis Hospital is offering free testing through Feb. 29, 2016.

McKay-Dee Hospital said the exposures for its patients occurred between June 2013 and November 2014, and Davis Hospital said the exposures for its patients occurred between June 2011 and April 2013.

The World Health Organization says hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the blood-borne hepatitis C virus, which can cause both acute and chronic hepatitis infection.

The disease becomes a long-term, chronic infection for 70 to 80 percent of people infected, and can result in long health problems and death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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