- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 31, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Attorneys for victims of the largest hepatitis C outbreak in recent U.S. history want a judge to order more testing, which they say could identify even more infected people.

Plaintiff’s attorneys have asked state District Judge Todd Cresap to order Minot’s Trinity Hospital to expand testing to all current and former employees and contractors who might have had access to injectable narcotics since 2010, and to all current and former Trinity patients who received injectable drugs or phlebotomy services from Trinity or a Trinity contactor in that time span.

“The testing order that plaintiffs seek will prevent an already devastating outbreak from spreading further still,” the plaintiffs said in a motion filed last week.

Hepatitis C is a viral infection that can cause serious liver damage or death. The state Health Department says 52 people were sickened in the outbreak that began in August 2013, including 48 residents or former residents of the ManorCare nursing home. It was the nation’s largest outbreak in 13 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The nursing home and 21 victims jointly filed a lawsuit in March claiming that an employee of Trinity’s outpatient laboratory service reused needles and didn’t follow infection control practices. The lawsuit seeks monetary damages.

Trinity has denied being responsible for the outbreak and has asked Cresap to throw out the lawsuit. Cresap has scheduled a mid-July hearing. Trinity attorney John Ramar said Tuesday that Trinity cooperated with the state Health Department and the CDC during the outbreak investigation “and relied on the expertise of each entity.”

Kirby Kruger, the state Health Department’s medical services chief, has said that state and federal health officials conducted a comprehensive investigation of the outbreak, including testing more than 1,800 people, before ending the probe. It didn’t pinpoint an exact cause of the outbreak.

Mark Sulkowski, a medical professor at Johns Hopkins University hired by the nursing home as a consultant, said in an affidavit accompanying the plaintiffs’ motion that testing in other hepatitis outbreaks around the nation in recent years ranged from about 2,300 people to as many as 60,000.

Ramar said “it appears ManorCare didn’t like the conclusions set forth in the report and through their hired expert, attempted to have the conclusions revised, modified or changed.”


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