Authorities have arrested a former New Hampshire hospital technician accused of infecting over 30 people with hepatitis C by injecting himself with syringes which were later used to treat patients.
David M. Kwiatkowski, 33, was a traveling technician who worked at Exeter Hospital’s cardiac catheterization lab from April 2011 through May 2012, when he was fired. He is accused of stealing syringes containing fentanyl from the lab, injecting himself and refilling the tubes with a liquid such as saline. Patients were then treated with the syringes.
Kwiatkowski told authorities he learned he had hepatitis C in May 2012, but further investigation showed he tested positive for the infection back in June 2010.
Kwiatkowski was arrested Thursday at an undisclosed Massachusetts hospital where he is receiving treatment for an undisclosed condition. He told authorities he has not taken drugs and a syringe found in his vehicle with a fentanyl label did not belong to him.
When Kwiatkowski is discharged, he will return to New Hampshire to face federal drug charges.
Hundreds of Exeter Hospital patients have been tested over the past few months and more are being notified. So far, 31 patients have tested positive for hepatitis C, a blood-borne infection which can cause liver disease and long-term health problems.
Two dozen lawsuits have been filed against the hospital for medical malpractice. A New Hampshire medical malpractice attorney is also representing 90 individuals for a possible class-action lawsuit which would allege medical malpractice and negligent supervision on the part of hospital.
The potential medical malpractice plaintiffs include 30 individuals who still do not know whether they have hepatitis C and another 30 or 40 who tested negative. These individuals have been told they must undergo periodic future testing, take medications for side effects and may not be intimate with their partners.
Kwiatkowski is a “serial infector,” said U.S. Attorney John Kacavas in comments reported by the Associated Press. He worked in hospitals in at least six other states and authorities are investigating whether he infected more patients.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has received similar reports of 13 hepatitis C outbreaks at medical facilities between 2008 and 2011, though state and federal authorities have no reporting requirement. At least two of the medical negligence cases have resulted in criminal charges.
- Hepatitis C, Mayo Clinic.
- Medical Malpractice by Employee Likely in Hospital Hepatitis C Outbreak,Massachusetts Injury Lawyer Blog.
- Former hospital worker accused of transmitting hepatitis C, CNN.
Exeter Hospital in New Hampshire is facing allegations of medical malpractice after 19 patients and one employee have tested positive for hepatitis C. New Hampshire public health officials suspect the cause is an employee who stole sterile syringes from a hospital lab, then replaced them with used water-filled ones.
So far, the events have led to extensive testing of 700 patients, and the testing continues. Patients from as far back as Oct. 1, 2010 have been called in for testing. Hepatitis C can take one to six months to appear in blood test. Because of this, many patients have been contacted for retesting.
Hepatitis C is the most common chronic bloodborne infection in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It often does not show immediate symptoms, but 60 to 70 percent of patients contract chronic liver disease and many suffer liver cancer. Some 3.2 million Americans live with chronic hepatitis infections.
The most common cause of hepatitis C is blood transmission, largely through sharing contaminated needles or other equipment to inject drugs, according to the CDC. From 2008 to 2011, the U.S. saw 13 hepatitis C outbreaks related to health care. There were 102 outbreak-associated cases and more than 80,000 people were notified for screening.
Exeter Hospital reported the outbreak to the state on May 15. It closed its cardiac catheterization lab from May 25 to June 5, when the state determined there was no contaminated equipment. The state Attorney General’s Office has launched an investigation.
Some of the patients who have contracted the hepatitis C have retained legal counsel. In New Hampshire, an employer can be held responsible for negligent and careless acts of an employees.
- Timeline of the Hepatitis C outbreak at Exeter Hospital, Union Leader
- Officials Suspect Hospital Worker in Hepatitis Outbreak, Boston Globe
- Hepatitis C, Centers for Disease Control
- Medical Malpractice Law