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NH revises hepatitis C testing plans

By Holly Ramer
Associated Press / August 3, 2012
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CONCORD, N.H.—After an earlier false start, New Hampshire health officials on Friday offered three testing options for thousands of people who may have been exposed to hepatitis C by a hospital technician now facing criminal charges.

David Kwiatkowski, 33, a traveling medical technician who worked in at least 18 hospitals in eight states, is accused of stealing drugs from Exeter Hospital's cardiac catheterization lab and contaminating syringes that were used on patients. Thirty of them have been diagnosed with the same strain of hepatitis C that Kwiatkowski carries.

Officials originally asked only patients of the cardiac lab to get tested for the blood-borne viral infection, but they later expanded the request to roughly 3,300 people who had surgery or were admitted to the intensive care unit during Kwiatkowski's employment because he also had access to those areas.

"It's important to note that we believe the exposure to this expanded group is low, but we are taking every precaution," said Nick Toumpas, commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The state had scheduled clinics in Exeter for last weekend but canceled them because there were too many details to work out. Under the plan announced Friday, patients may attend clinics being held in Stratham, Plaistow, Rochester or Manchester; schedule an appointment to get tested at Exeter Hospital; or drop in to two Portsmouth Regional Hospital satellite offices.

The state is sending letters to each affected patient and will set up a call center to both answer questions and to call patients directly and explain the process.

The public clinics will be held Aug. 10-11 at the Cooperative Middle School in Stratham, Aug. 14-15 at Timberlane Regional High School in Plaistow, Aug. 16 at Rochester Middle School and Aug. 16-18 at the Manchester health department. Exeter Hospital will schedule appointments for Aug. 13-15, and patients can go to the Portsmouth Regional Hospital offices in Hampton and at the Pease International Tradeport in Portsmouth during regular office hours.

Those who get tested at one of the four public clinics will get their results back within an hour, though if they test positive they will face further testing.

Kwiatkowski worked at Exeter Hospital from April 2011 to May 25, when he was fired. He previously worked in Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania, and had been fired from two hospitals for drug-related incidents.

He is charged in New Hampshire with illegally obtaining drugs and tampering with a consumer product, but prosecutors have said they expect to bring more charges. By law, prosecutors have 30 days to indict him, but the U.S. attorney's office on Thursday requested a delay until Oct. 5, saying it needs more time for scientific analysis and to interview witnesses in other states.

Kwiatkowski has told authorities he did not steal or use drugs.

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