Negligent Exposure to Viral Illness Including Hepatitis C (HCV)

1750 Patients of Four Maryland Hospitals Potentially Exposed to Hepatitis C Virus by Medical Technician

On August 13, 2012, The Baltimore Sun reported that four Maryland hospitals are offering free hepatitis C testing to at least 1,750 patients who may have been exposed to the viral disease by a traveling medical technician, as state officials launch a broad regulatory review in response to the case.   David Matthew Kwiatkowski, 32, who worked as a health technician at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Southern Maryland Hospital, Maryland General Hospital and the Baltimore Veterans Administration Medical Center, was arrested by the FBI in July in New Hampshire. He was charged with illegally obtaining Fentanyl, a powerful anesthetic, and with infecting at least 30 people with hepatitis C at Exeter Hospital in New Hampshire. 

The Sun previously reported that Kwiatkowski worked in the cardiac catheterization laboratory at Exeter Hospital during an outbreak of hepatitis, a blood-borne viral infection that can cause liver damage and lead to chronic health problems.  Kwiatkowski is accused of stealing syringes containing narcotics intended for patients, injecting himself and then putting another substance such as saline into the syringe, the FBI said. The patients were then injected with the saline instead of the drug.

Kwiatkowski, who worked as a traveling medical technician on a contract basis in at least seven states, was hired by hospitals through staffing agencies. He worked as a radiographer performing diagnostic procedures such as cardiac catheterization, where a tube is placed into the heart using X-rays as a guide. Doctors are then able to collect blood samples from the heart, examine arteries or measure the heart's blood flow.

The Sun further reported that  "this is an extraordinary event, and we want a very aggressive review by the public health team for the purpose of patient safety," said Frances B. Phillips, deputy secretary at the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.  "We want to shed light on any weakness in our health system that could result in this kind of transmission," Phillips added.

Hepatitis is inflamation of the liver.  Hepatic inflamation can lead to cirrhosis, liver failure and death.   Hepatitis can be caused by a number of events, most frequently infection by one of a number of viruses.   Hepatitis C virus or “HCV” is a virus of the Flaviviridae family that was first identified as “non-A, non-B hepatitis” in 1974, and specifically identified as HCV in 1988.   Hepatitis C virus has six genotypes and at least 90 subtypes.  The average incubation time between exposure and seroconversion is 14 to 180 days. .   Hepatitis C virus causes in excess of 10,000 deaths per year and is the leading indication for liver transplantation in the United States.  Hepatitis C virus can cause acute hepatitis, chronic  hepatitis, or both.  Unlike most other forms of viral hepatitis, Hepatitis C virus  is almost exclusively transmitted through percutaneous exposure to blood or blood products contaminated with the HCV virus.  It is rarely transmitted sexually, perinatally or orally (other than in the circumstance of co-infection with HIV).   Although there are certain treatments (Interferon and Ribavirin) that are of benefit in selected patients, there is no known cure for  Hepatitis C virus.  Of the six known genotypes of Hepatitis C virus, genotype 1 has the poorest prognosis and response to treatment.  Roughly 70% of patients afflicted with Hepatitis C virus will develop a chronic form of the disease characterized by progressive liver damage occurring over a variable period of time, generally 10 to 30 years.  Roughly 30% of Hepatitis C virus patients will develop severe cirrhosis of the liver.  Today, Hepatitis C virus related liver failure is the most common cause of liver transplant.  There is also an association between Hepatitis C virus  and liver cancer, which will strike roughly 3% of chronically infected HCV patients.    Much is unknown about the clinical course and risks of Hepatitis C virus -related complications in persons who have been infected for longer than two decades.  Recent studies have raised questions of whether cirrhosis and liver failure are inevitable long term consequences of chronic  Hepatitis C virus infection.

The attorneys at Iliff, Meredith, Wildberger & Brennan, P.C. have extensive experience prosecuting cases involving negligent exposure to the Hepatitis C virus.  If you are one of the unfortunate approximately 1750 victims contacted regarding this most recent potential Hepatitis C virus outbreak, you may wish to contact David J. Wildberger or Kathleen Howard Meredith at 410-685-1166 for a free initial consultation to explore your rights and potential compensation in this matter.