- The Washington Times - Friday, February 29, 2008

Nevada health officials are urging thousands of patients to get tested for hepatitis and HIV after six cases of hepatitis C were linked to a clinic that violated standard medical procedures by reusing syringes and vials.

The Southern Nevada Health District began sending letters Wednesday to an estimated 40,000 patients who received anesthesia by injection between March 2004, and Jan. 11, 2008, at the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada.

The notification, described as the largest of its kind in U.S. history, came after the health district discovered six of the Las Vegas clinic’s patients had contracted hepatitis C. Five of those received anesthesia on the same day, according to a health district statement that did not specify the date.

No cases of HIV or the more-virulent B-strain of hepatitis have been traced back to the clinic, but state health officials noted that both diseases can be transmitted through the same unsafe injection practices identified as the likely source of transmission.

Based on the information we discovered during our investigation, it appears the injection practices that can lead to the transmission of hepatitis C and other bloodborne infections have been occurring at this clinic for several years, said Dr. Lawrence Sands, the district’s chief health officer. We are recommending that all patients during this time frame get tested because we cannot determine which patients may have been exposed.

Brian Labus, the department’s senior epidemiologist, stressed that the clinic had reused syringes, not needles, but that such a procedure can still pass an infection from one patient to another.

It seemed like it was a pretty standard practice, said Mr. Labus. They would reuse a syringe if a second dose was needed. So contaminated vials were used for subsequent patients.

He said the clinic has remained open after correcting the problem. The state Bureau of Licensure and Certification is determining whether the clinic will be penalized for the infraction.

At a press conference Wednesday, an unidentified doctor read a statement saying that the injection procedures had been corrected. He declined to answer questions on the advice of the clinic’s attorneys.

As always, our patients remain our primary responsibility and we have already corrected the situation, the doctor said. We have already taken steps to ensure it will never happen again.

Missing from the press briefing was Dr. Dipak Desai, a prominent Nevada gastroenterologist who is listed as the clinic’s medical director and majority owner. Dr. Desai has served on the Nevada Board of Medical Examiners and taught at the University of Nevada School of Medicine, according to the Las Vegas Sun. In 1996, he was fined $2,500 for representing falsely that members of his medical group were board-certified gastroenterologists, said the Sun.

Most people who contract hepatitis C never know it. Only about 20 percent of its victims ever show symptoms, which include jaundice, abdominal pain and fatigue, and it can linger in the body for years before manifesting signs.

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