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Thousands Tested for Hep C in N.H. Case

New Hampshire health officials are screening roughly 3,300 Exeter Hospital patients for hepatitis C after a former hospital worker was charged with infecting patients in his attempt to steal drugs.

David Kwiatkowski, a contract technician in the cardiac catheterization lab at the small New Hampshire hospital, is accused of injecting himself with drugs used in the lab  -  namely the opioid painkiller fentanyl  -  before the same needles and vials were used in patients.

Kwiatkowski tested positive for hepatitis C in June 2010, court records show.

Last month, the New Hampshire Division of Public Health Services (DPHS) announced that 31 hospital patients linked to Exeter tested positive for hepatitis C, all with the same strain as Kwiatkowski's. All had been treated in the cath lab where Kwiatkowski worked.

Kwiatkowski is charged in U.S. District Court in New Hampshire with obtaining a controlled substance by fraud and tampering with a consumer product with reckless disregard for death or bodily injury. He is no longer employed at the hospital, court records show.

Public health officials are now turning their attention to detecting all possible hepatitis C cases through several days of testing later this month at the hospital and four outside testing sites.

At-risk patients were treated in the main operating room or intensive care unit at Exeter Hospital from April 1, 2011 to May 25, 2012, when Kwiatkowski worked at the hospital. Patients will be notified this week about their testing options.

"Exeter Hospital will continue to work with the DPHS and other officials to ensure those affected by this situation have access to the resources and information they need," the hospital said in a press release.

Testing was first scheduled for late July but delayed to mid August over concerns of safety and patient privacy.

Exeter spokeswoman Debra Vasapolli told MedPage Today that identified patients tested at the hospital won't have to pay for the test, but she couldn't comment on services at the four other sites around the state. Those sites include two middle schools, a high school, and the Manchester Health Department.

State epidemiologist Sharon Alroy-Preis said test results would be available to patients in 30 to 45 minutes if they take a rapid test at a clinic or in about three business days if results are sent to a lab.

Exeter describes itself as a 100-bed, tax-exempt community hospital with more than 200 physicians on staff and more than 5,000 admissions a year.

Source: MedPage Today, by David  Pittman, Washington Correspondent.  Published: August 06, 2012

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