- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 29, 2005

BALTIMORE (AP) — After a five-month state investigation, health officials remain mystified how a vial of testing solution became contaminated with the hepatitis C virus and infected 16 persons.

However, a report summarizing the investigation casts suspicion on a tainted blood sample.

All 16 persons who received the tracer later tested positive for hepatitis C. One recipient, a 79-year-old retired Brooklyn Park ironworker, died from the disease, his family said.

The 16 persons were 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 has said.

State epidemiologists noted in a summary of their findings released Monday that the day before the tracer was prepared, pharmacy technicians processed a blood sample that contained hepatitis B, hepatitis C and the human immunodeficiency virus.

The pharmacy had been unaware that the blood was infected, the report said.

Tests by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta showed that the hepatitis C virus in the blood sample was similar to the virus found in the tracer, the report said.

The materials used to process the tracer were discarded by the time the cases began to appear.

Because of that, investigators said, they could not say conclusively that the infected blood contaminated the tracer.

A decision on whether to reopen the pharmacy, which closed after the outbreak, has not been made, a company official said Monday.

State health officials said no other cases of hepatitis C are expected to be linked to the contaminated tracer.

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