SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Health officials announced Monday that 15 patients at two Utah hospitals have tested positive for hepatitis C after coming in contact with an infected nurse.
There is no way to know for sure that the nurse infected the patients, said Angela Dunn, an epidemiologist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who is stationed at Utah’s health department.
About half of the 7,200 patients exposed to the infection at hospitals in Ogden and Layton have been tested.
Health officials launched an investigation last summer after officials discovered a patient may have contracted the infection after being treated by a nurse at McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden with the same rare strain of hepatitis. Only about 8-10 percent of those people with hepatitis C have that strain, said Dunn.
She said it is possible the original patient could have infected the nurse. Dunn said she knows of no investigation into whether the nurse may have infected the patients on purpose.
The 49-year-old nurse had been fired in 2014 for stealing drugs, Dunn said.
Health officials expanded their investigation beyond the hospital in Ogden after determining that the nurse had also worked for Davis Hospital in Layton, and had stolen drugs from that facility as well.
There has only been one case of hepatitis C discovered at Davis Hospital, but less than half of the thousands of patients exposed there have been tested.
“Most people with hepatitis C infection don’t know it,” said Dunn. “A lot of that is because people don’t show symptoms for up to 20 years.”
The most common way to get hepatitis C is through injecting drugs or sharing needles, she said.
Both hospitals had repeatedly sent letters and made phone calls to the thousands of patients who were exposed to the infection, urging them to come in for free blood tests, said Dunn.
Hepatitis C is spread through blood to blood exposure. It can eventually result in death if an individual infected is not treated.