Investigations Continue In Hepatitis Scare

Over the last three weeks, Channel 8 has been inundated with calls and emails about the hepatitis scare. Many have been wondering why more notices haven't gone out even though more cases are being reported every day.

From the closed clinics, to the halls of power. "This is the beginning of people understanding what a healthcare crisis is," said Senator Harry Reid.

The questions are pouring in. Why hasn't the case expanded? Why isn't the Health District moving faster? The answers and detective work may actually lie inside the body.

Health District doctor Brian Labus says the trouble is with hepatitis itself. "They just have this infection that they have for a long time called a chronic disease."

It comes in two forms. Acute hepatitis -- "You get acutely ill, often develop jaundice, nausea, abdominal pain," he said.

And chronic hepatitis. "You could have a low level of disease, where you're getting a low level of liver damage or just a little amount of liver damage and you wouldn't even know it until you had a test years down the road."

Because chronic doesn't show up easily unless a doctor specifically looks for it, Labus says it becomes nearly impossible to tie a clinic to a patient. The disease stays dormant.

Unless the patient had a blood test before a procedure and then one a few weeks later -- Labus and investigators can't ever prove a particular clinic is to blame.

"We really have to look at their entire lives and look at the risk factors they may have had years to decades before they ever set foot in the clinic," said Labus.

The seven cases all had proof in the paper trail or through medical symptoms. Each day, 20 to 30 patients get confirmation they have the disease, but many are chronic cases with no paper trail and no symptoms.

"Because when those tests come in, we don't know if it's related to the clinic or not," said Labus.

And that means the question of how they got hepatitis may never be answered.

Email your comments to Reporter Jonathan Humbert.


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