Hepatitis C cases a medical puzzle
BALTIMORE (AP) � A vial of a radioactive solution, 12 hepatitis C cases and one death so far are the elements of a mystery that health officials are pondering.
The cases were from a group of 16 patients injected with the solution Oct. 15 for routine heart-stress testing, all from a single vial produced by a Timonium pharmacy run by Cardinal Health, the Dublin, Ohio-based company said.
Among the patients was John Leto, 80, a Brooklyn Park man who died of pneumonia on Christmas Day after suffering from hepatitis, a disease of the liver.
Investigators now are trying to learn how the 12 were infected, a probe that could take months to complete, said John Hammond, a spokesman for the state health department.
Cardinal Health said the investigation is focusing on the way the doses were prepared and not on the pharmaceutical tracer contained in the doses.
Professor Fadia Shaya, who heads the state council that evaluates the state's plan for monitoring and controlling hepatitis C, said the panel is following the case closely.
Miss Shaya, a University of Maryland School of Pharmacy professor, said the needles used were pre-filled and shipped to the institutions where the 16 patients were tested. The virus could have entered the process at several points, she said.
"How does the tracer, container or the needle get infected? It could be any one of these," she said.
Miss Shaya said it seemed unlikely that all of the needles filled from the vial could have been infected before they were filled, "but the whole event is unlikely, so all possibilities should be explored."
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said studies have found the hepatitis C virus can survive on surfaces at room temperature for at least 16 hours, but no longer than four days.
Medical and dental procedures in the United States generally do not pose a risk for spreading hepatitis C, but it has occurred in a few situations when supplies or equipment were shared, according to the CDC Web site (www.cdc.gov).
Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by a virus of the same name. It can be transmitted when blood or other body fluid from an infected person enters the body of a person who is not infected.
The disease causes between 8,000 and 10,000 deaths in the United States each year, the CDC said.
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