Vegas Clinic Patients May Have Been Exposed to Disease

Thousands of locals now have to get tested for possible exposure to Hepatitis C and other dangerous diseases. It is the largest Hepatitis scare in Nevada history.

The word came Wednesday from the Southern Nevada Health District. The patients had procedures done at the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada. The health district has information available on their website regarding the investigation and a hotline has also been set up.

Southern Nevada Health District Hotline is (702)759-4636 (INFO)

SNHD officials say they first learned of the problem in early January, when a routine investigation process found that practitioners at the Endoscopy Center were using the same syringe on more than one patient -- exposing those patients to the blood of other patients.

"Hepatitis C is the worst of the infections." Dr. Mel Pohl is a local physician, and medical director of the Las Vegas Recovery Center. He outlines the risks at least six patients face after they contracted Hepatitis C while undergoing procedures at the Endoscopy Center.

"The virus infects people, they get liver inflammation, it can be Hepatitis A, B, C, D, and there's a number of other letters associated," said Pohl.

As many as 40,000 others are being advised to be tested for the virus.

An investigation by the SNHD found that, "Unsafe injection practices, related to the administration of anesthesia medication might have exposed patients to the blood of other patients."

"The decision to notify such a large number of people and to recommend testing is based on an identified public health risk, and out of concern for the long term health of those that may have been infected," said Dr. Lawrence Sands, Chief Health Officer with the Southern Nevada Health District.

"During the course of the investigation, we identified serious problems with the center's injection practices. We found the re-use of syringes on a patient and the re-use of vials labeled for single patient use. The combination of these two practices could have exposed patients to the blood of other patients," said Brian Labus with the Southern Nevada Health District.

A spokesman for the endoscopy center was also on hand for the news conference -- to express the center's concern for its patients, and to say the health threatening situation has been corrected.

"The recent events related to the district's study marks the first time anything like this has happened at our facility. We have taken steps to ensure it will never happen again," said Dr. Eladio Carrera with the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada.

While those words may be of little comfort to the patients exposed to the viruses during the time frame of March 2004 and January 11th 2008, Dr. Pohl says there is still some hope for those who've been infected.

"Hepatitis C is very serious. It can lead to liver damage and even liver cancer. HIV can lead to AIDS and that can be potentially fatal. But again, people are living longer and longer with that disease," said Pohl.

Health officials are also recommending that Endoscopy Center patients also be tested for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Meanwhile, the notification of the estimated 40,000 patients who may have been exposed to disease, is the largest patient notification effort in the nation.


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