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Employee's drug use eyed in hepatitis C outbreak that infects 20 at N.H. hospital

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generic syringes vaccine needles Getty Images

(CBS News) What's behind the hepatitis C outbreak at New Hampshire hospital that's sickened twenty people?

CBS Boston reports that 19 patients of Exeter Hospital's Cardiac Catheterization Lab and a hospital worker have been diagnosed with the same strain of the liver-damaging disease since the state began investigating the outbreak last month.

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On Wednesday Dr. Jose Montero, New Hampshire's public health director, said that the ongoing investigation points towards "drug diversion" as the cause of the outbreak, according to CBS Boston. That means an infected employee might have used a syringe on himself to get a drug fix and then used the same needle on patients.

CBS Boston reports that two people have sued the hospital. A lawsuit filed by a 50-year-old man who was infected says the hospital, "failed to exercise reasonable care to ensure that its patients are not infected with deadly diseases."

Hospital officials asked in a statement on Thursday for anyone treated at the Cardiac Catherization Lab between October 1, 2010 and May 25, 2012 to be tested.

The hospital said Friday in a statement on its website that it has already directly reached more than 600 individuals who were tested as a result of the investigation. It also said an open forum will be held tonight at the Exeter High School so epidemiologists can update the public on their investigation and answer any questions.

The outbreak was first announced in May, according to CBS Boston.

The New York Daily News reported last month that a former radiology technician at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonsivlle, Fla. admitted to infecting patients at the hospital with hepatitis C by stealing the painkiller Fentanyl to shoot up before refilling them with saline and giving them to patients. Two people were infected, one of which died.

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