Two patients have contracted hepatitis C from a nurse at a Washington hospital – and 2,600 more may have been exposed.
The nurse, who has not been identified, administered antihistamines and sedatives as part of her job in the emergency department at MultiCare Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup, 35 miles south of Seattle.
But it has since emerged that between August 2017 and March 2018, the nurse was stealing narcotics from the hospital, and tested positive for hepatitis C, a blood-borne infection.
An investigation revealed two of the hospital’s thousands of patients had since contracted the disease.
Now, even patients who weren’t treated by the nurse are being urged to get tested for hepatitis B, C and HIV, as they fear some of the hospital’s equipment could have been contaminated.
Patients contracted hepatitis C after an infected nurse administered drugs to patients at at MultiCare Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup, Washington
WHAT IS HEPATITIS C?
Most people do not experience any symptoms when they become infected. Some may feel briefly unwell and in rare cases may become jaundiced (yellowing of the skin and eyes). Many with chronic hepatitis C will have no symptoms, while others will feel unwell in varying degrees.
HOW TO AVOID IT:
There is no vaccine to protect against hepatitis C, but there are a number of things that can be done to avoid being infected with the virus.
Don’t start injecting drugs
Stop injecting drugs if you can. If you’re unable to stop injecting drugs, then never share drug-injecting equipment. Only use your own equipment and do not pass it on to others. This includes needles, syringes or anything else that might have been contaminated with blood.
If you don’t know someone’s sexual history, use a condom. Only condoms provide ‘all-in-one’ protection against pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
If you are considering having body piercing, ear piercing, a tattoo, semi-permanent make-up or acupuncture, whether in this country or abroad, assure that equipment used is sterile.
Avoid sharing toiletry equipment such as razors, toothbrushes or tweezers as they may have been contaminated with blood, for example due to bleeding gums or a cut from a razor.
The nurse no longer works at the hospital.
The hospital insisted the exposure was not as far-reaching as it could have been; they estimate it affected about five percent of the 54,000-strong patient population.
A spokesman insisted it was an ‘isolated situation’.
‘We deeply value the trust of our community, and apologize for the worry this will create,’ the hospital group’s CEO Chris Bredeson said in a statement.
‘We have taken extensive measures to identify anyone who may have been at risk for exposure, out of interest for the health and safety of our patients and the community.
‘We remain committed to the highest standards of patient care and are working to make sure the affected patients are supported and have the information they need.’
Most people with hepatitis C do not realize they have the virus because it can take years or even decades for symptoms to appear.
Around one in four people with hepatitis C will get rid of the virus naturally.
The remainder will develop chronic infection. Many people with chronic hepatitis C infection will live out a normal lifespan.
About one in five of people with chronic infection will eventually develop severe liver damage (cirrhosis), which can lead to liver cancer or liver failure and the need for liver transplantation.
Hepatitis C is not just a disease contracted by people who inject drugs.
Anyone whose blood has come into contact with the blood of someone infected with the hepatitis C virus, could be at risk. There are other ways that the virus can be transmitted.
Hepatitis C can be successfully treated, treatments are available.