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Exeter Hospital lab tech indicted in New Hampshire hepatitis C outbreak

Hand holding syringe and gavel CBS / iStock Photo

(CBS/AP) A former New Hampshire hospital employee was indicted Thursday on charges he caused a hepatitis C outbreak involving patients who were treated at Exeter Hospital's cardiac catheterization lab.

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U.S. Attorney John Kacavas said 33-year-old David Kwiatkowski, a former lab technician at Exeter Hospital, has been charged with fraudulently obtaining drugs and tampering with a consumer product. He was arrested at a hospital in Massachusetts, where he's receiving medical treatment.

Kacavas said Kwiatkowski, originally from Michigan, worked as a traveling medical technician in at least six other states. He had been at Exeter since April 2011.

"This serial infector has been contained and the menace he posed to public health and safety has been removed," Kacavas said.

Investigators believe he stole syringes containing an anesthetic and injected himself with them. Kwiatkowski then allegedly put another liquid, such as saline, into the syringes, which were later injected into the patients. This illegal abuse of medication in a health care setting is known as "drug diversion."

Kacavas said the investigation revealed that Kwiatkowski was involved in a similar incident at a hospital in another state, but he was not specific.

Altogether, 31 people, including Kwiatkowski, have tested positive for the same strain of the disease since the investigation began in late May.

Foster's Daily Democrat reports that Exeter Hospital employees were suspicious of Kwiatkowski's behavior prior to the outbreak. According to an affidavit, he was allegedly seen leaving the catherization lab during procedures, sweating profusely and attending procedures on his off-days.

The paper also reported that patients who contracted hepatitis C at the hospital may soon be eligible to receive an experimental new treatment that's currently in Phase II testing and has yet to be approved by the FDA. Preliminary studies show people with hepatitis C who take the drug have shown ""substantial and sustained response rates that are tantamount to cure," Dr. Raymond Chung, medical director of Massachusetts General Hospital's liver transplant program told Foster's Daily Democrat.

In June, Dr. Jose Montero, New Hampshire's public health director, had said an ongoing investigation waspointing to drug diversion as the cause of the outbreak.

Drug diversion was also the cause of a 2010 hepatitis C outbreak at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla. Five people were found to be infected following a 3.5 year investigation in which 3,500 patients were tested for hepatitis C. The hospital employee, 48-year-old Steven Beumel of Jacksonville, pled guilty in May 2012 to diverting the painkiller Fentanyl, according to the FBI.

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne viral infection that can cause liver disease and chronic health issues. Approximately 3.2 million Americans are chronically infected with the disease.

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