Hepatitis C Cases Could be More Widespread - 8 News NOW

Edward Lawrence, Reporter

Hepatitis C Cases Could be More Widespread

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More people may receive official letters in the mail warning them they may have been exposed to hepatitis or HIV from local medical centers.

Eyewitness News has learned that the Southern Nevada Health District is determining who else may need to be notified.

State inspectors say they are finding violations at more surgical centers which increases the possibility of health risks. So far, all of the cases of hepatitis linked to re-using syringes or vials come from one place, The Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada which is located on Shadow Lane.

The Southern Nevada Health District has notified 40,000 people who used the clinic in the past four years. Now, sources say the health district may officially notify tens of thousands more people.

"We are still working on those investigations to determine the public health risk in the other situations. We know at this clinic we identified a practice and an outbreak which made it necessary to test those 40,000 people," said Brian Lapus, senior epidemiologist.

Sources say the health district is working to narrow the list of patients at risk from the six other centers also owned by Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada doctors. Only six confirmed cases of hepatitis have been linked to the original center. Lapus says they may never determine exactly how many cases came from the practice of reusing syringes.

"It could be that they were infected at the clinic and tested positive or it could have been they were infected decades ago and tested positive. We cannot really say what the source is for a lot of those cases," Lapus said.

Still, state inspectors continue to make sure the rest of the surgical centers in Las Vegas do not put patients at risk.

"They interviewed our patients. They interviewed our staff and they looked at all of our sterile techniques," said Vickie Axsom-Brown, Centennial Spine and Pain Center.

Inspectors identified what they call a "lower" offense. They were mistakenly reusing single dose vials of sodium bicarbonate on multiple patients.

"I have learned my lesson that we will not be using it as a multi-dose vial ever again," said Axsom-Brown. The center stayed open because they never reused a syringe. "We want our patients to know that we have done nothing to compromise their health."

State inspectors will make sure it stays that way. Now it's up to Lapus to take the inspection reports and match them with patients at-risk. That is a slow process.

Meanwhile, the State Board of Medical Examiners has asked the governor to appoint independent physicians as a special body to determine if the doctors involved in re-using syringes should lose their medical licenses.

Also the board president, vice president, and another board member have recused themselves from this investigation because they were involved with the clinics said to re-use syringes.

Email your comments to Reporter Edward Lawrence.

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