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Patients Exposed To Hepatitis C Demand Answers From Exeter Hospital

EXETER, NH (CBS) - As a Hepatitis C outbreak at Exeter Hospital grows, local officials and patients are demanding answers.

The outbreak was first announced in May and was linked to the catheter lab. According to the hospital, 869 people may have been exposed. So far 13 patients and one hospital worker have tested positive for the chronic disease.

Officials have not officially named the cause of the outbreak. State Health Director Dr. Jose Montero has said that one of the possibilities being investigated is that an infected worker used a syringe on himself and then used the same needle on patients.

It's a theory hospital officials can neither confirm nor deny. "To date there's been no immediate smoking gun that would indicate one area or another," said Hospital Vice President of Community Relations Mark Whitney. He says it is still early in their investigation.

Kevin French is one of the patients who may have been exposed.

"It's horrible," he says. "It's in the back of my mind all the time. I lose sleep. I lose my appetite, everything."

French received a negative result on his first test, but because it was taken so soon after his procedure, he needs to be re-tested before he can receive a clean bill of health.

The lack of answers is has sparked State Representative Lee Quandt (R-Exeter) to call for a public forum.

"There are no straight answers. It's 'maybe, could be, should be. We're looking at it," he says. "Well five weeks out, I think five weeks is quite awhile."

Health advocate and former cardiac surgeon and attorney Domenic Paolini has also been an outspoken critic of the response.

"Why is this cath lab open when they haven't found the cause of the hepatitis outbreak," he told WBZ-TV. Paolini believes the hospital knows what happened and is keeping quiet.

The hospital insists their lab is safe. "It was re-opened only after we had the green light from the experts at the Division of Public Health," Whitney maintains.

But as patients continue to get tested, they are frustrated that they still don't know why they were exposed in the first place.

"I hope it wasn't a nurse or someone working in the lab, because that's not right," says French.

Montero tells WBZ-TV he understands the frustrations felt by patients. He hopes to have a public announcement of their findings soon.

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