Fri, Aug 03, 2012 - Page 7 News List

‘Serial infector’ may have given thousands hepatitis

NY Times News Service, BOSTON

Thousands of former patients at a New Hampshire hospital must wait at least another week to learn if they were infected with hepatitis C through syringes used by a traveling medical technician now known as the “serial infector.”

The New Hampshire health department announced last month that it intended to test more than 3,400 people who had been hospitalized while the technician, David Kwiatkowski, 32, who is believed to have contracted the disease at least two years ago, was working at Exeter Hospital.

Kwiatkowski was charged with federal drug crimes last month, accused of stealing drugs and injecting himself with syringes that were later used on patients. He has worked at an estimated 13 hospitals in eight states and potentially could have infected thousands of patients.

Testing will be delayed as officials continue to try to develop an orderly process that will allow patients from the Exeter Hospital to be tested quickly, said Jose Montero, director of the New Hampshire health department’s division of public health.

Already, patient advocates are pushing for ways to tighten the rules regarding technicians to prevent cases like this from happening again.

Elenore Casey Crane, a former state representative in New Hampshire and co-founder of a group called The Patients Speak, is calling for a national registry to which hospitals and staffing agencies would be required to report issues of professional misconduct by medical technicians. She said that beyond calling previous employers for a reference check, hospitals have no way of knowing whether a technician has previous violations.

Her group is also calling for national licensing of all medical technicians, which at present vary from state to state. It has also prompted legislators in the eight states involved to file bills to require random drug testing of technicians at hospitals twice a year.

“Why does the guy who loads your car at [hardware supply store] Home Depot have drug testing and the men and women with you in the operating room do not?” Crane said.

Her goal is nothing short of changing what she said was the culture of secrecy around medical workers.

Triage Staffing Inc of Nebraska, the agency that placed Kwiatkowski in many of his more recent jobs, has been sued by Domenic Paolini, a malpractice lawyer and former cardiac surgeon in Boston, on behalf of several patients.

He has filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of people whom the health department has recommended be tested, as well as infected patients.

Montero said on Wednesday that almost 1,300 people had been tested, including many hospital employees.

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