David Kwiatowski and Hepatitis C: Pain Killer Theft Kills

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Hepatitis C is omre serisous types of hepatitis viruses. Image by  Maria Teresa Catanese, Martina Kopp, Kunihiro Uryu , and Charles Rice and TimVickers

Hepatitis C is the more serious type of hepatitis virus. Image by Maria Teresa Catanese, Martina Kopp, Kunihiro Uryu , and Charles Rice and TimVickers

A U.S. hospital technician has infected dozens of people with hepatitis C by injecting himself with pain killers that patients were supposed to receive and then refilling the used and now contaminated syringes with saline solution.

David Kwiatkowski, the hospital technician at the Exeter hospital in New Hampshire, left the syringes tainted with his blood when he refilled them with the saline solution he used to replace the patients’ medicine.

Kwiatkowski has been in jail since his arrest in July 2012. In a plea agreement filed this past Monday, August 12, 2013, Kwitowski said he had been stealing these drugs for more than a decade and has “killed a lot of people,” reports the Guardian.

Hepatitis C: Patients Infected By Needles

In New Hampshire, 32 patients have been diagnosed with same strain of hepatitis C that Kwiatkowski has. Kwiatkowski previously worked in 18 hospitals in seven different states before coming to New Hampshire, and has infected at least seven patients in Maryland, six in Kansas, and one in Pennsylvania. One of the patients in Kansas has died.

Hep C: Symptoms and Complications

The Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) is one of many different hepatitis viruses and is considered the most serious. A virus which infects the liver causes Hep C, causing swelling and being spread by infected blood; usually during shared needles during illegal drug use.

Many people who have been infected with hepatitis C don’t even know that they have been infected, as symptoms generally don’t appear until liver damage is present, which can be decades later.

According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms include in the later stages of this HCV infection may include, fatigue, fever, nausea, poor appetite, muscle and joint pain, dark urine, and yellowing (jaundice) of the skin and eyes. After years of having Hepatitis C, complications such as scarring of the liver tissue, called cirrhosis, can make it difficult for your liver to function. Some people with Hepatitis C may develop liver cancer and some may develop liver failure.

HCV Diagnosis and Treatment

Those who are at risk for Hepatitis C should be tested so that treatment can begin quickly and help prevent further damage. Doctors can conduct blood tests to diagnoses Hepatitis C to measure the quantity of the virus in your blood (viral load) and to determine the genetic makeup of the virus, which will help determine a specific treatment plan for individuals.

The replication of the Hepatitis C virus. Signs and symptoms generally do not show up until years or decades after being infected. Image by GrahamColm.

The replication of the Hepatitis C virus. Signs and symptoms generally do not show up until years or decades after being infected. Image by GrahamColm.

Treatment for Hepatitis C may include medications to help your body get rid of the virus and to reduce the risk of developing liver cancer and cirrhosis.

For those patients who develop liver cancer and cirrhosis, a liver transplant maybe necessary. It is important to not drink alcohol if you have Hepatitis C, as the alcohol can speed up the damage to the liver and hinder the way the medications work, according to MedlinePlus. A good response to treatment occurs when the virus has been eliminated from the body and is no longer detected.

HCV Infection via Contaminated Needles

Kwiatkowski has said that he has been stealing drugs since 2002, and swapped syringes with saline solution at least 50 times in New Hampshire, at least 30 times in Georgia, and more than 20 times in Kansas. The Guardian reports Kwiatkowski saying, “I’m killing a lot of people.”

Unfortunately, he’s probably right. Due to the nature of the virus, people who have been infected may not show any signs or symptoms of Hepatitis C until the late stages, which can be up to a decade later. Early testing and treatment can improve your chances, so if you received treatment requiring IV pain medication in these hospitals during this time frame, consider getting tested. As always, talk to your doctor about how this issue may affect you and your health.

Resources

The Guardian. US hospital technician accused of infecting dozens with hepatitis C. August 13, 2013. Accessed August 13, 2013.

MedlinePlus. Hepatitis C.  Accessed August 13, 2013.

Mayo Clinic. Hepatitis C. Accessed August 13,2 013.

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