Tech May Have Exposed Thousands to Hep C

Jeff Dorsey, left, president and chief executive officer of Health One, talks while Dr. Donald Leftkowits, acting medical staff president at Rose Medical Center, right, looks on during a news conference in Denver on Thursday, July 2, 2009, about a Colorado Department of Health investigation into a former Rose surgical room employee who may have infected at least nine patients at the hospital with hepatitis C between October 2008 until April 2009. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
AP Photo/David Zalubowski
Federal agents in Colorado have arrested a former surgery technician accused of exposing up to 6,000 people to hepatitis C.

Authorities say Kristen Diane Parker injected herself with painkillers meant for hospital patients, then filled the used syringes with saline solution. Police say thousands of patients at two hospitals may have been exposed to hepatitis C.

Parker appeared in court Monday to be advised of the charges, which include product tampering and other violations.

Officials say Parker worked at Rose Medical Center in Denver until she was fired after testing positive for the painkiller Fentyl. She then went to work for the Audubon Ambulatory Surgery Center in Colorado Springs.

An affidavit by Mary F. LaFrance, an investigator for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, says at least nine surgery patients at Rose have tested positive for hepatitis C, which is incurable. About 6,000 patients are being advised they may have been exposed and need to be tested.

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne disease that can cause serious liver problems, including cirrhosis or liver cancer. The illness is treatable, but there is no cure. Symptoms can include nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, pain and jaundice.

Rose Medical Center officials told a news conference Thursday night they were working with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to determine whether Parker was the source of the virus.

It could not be determined Thursday night whether Parker had an attorney.

Parker worked at Rose from Oct. 21, 2008, until April. Hospital officials say she was suspended April 13, before they learned of the cases, and then fired. She had failed a drug test by testing positive for Fentanyl.

Parker went to work for the Audubon surgery center shortly after being fired. She worked there from May 4 until Monday, Dr. J. Michael Hall, Audubon's medical director, told The Gazette in Colorado Springs.

If convicted of tampering with a consumer product and other charges, she faces up to 10 years in prison and a maximum $250,000 fine on the most serious charge of tampering.