Testing finds some hepatitis C cases at Utah hospitals where infected nurse worked

By Jennifer Dobner

Two months of testing has identified a rare strain of hepatitis C in the blood of some patients treated at Utah hospitals by a nurse who was later found to have the disease, state health officials said Wednesday.

Health officials began free testing in October after it was discovered the nurse, who was fired in 2014 after stealing drugs, may have exposed as many as 7,200 patients to hepatitis C genotype 2b, while working at Ogden’s McKay-Dee Hospital, and Davis Hospital and Medical Center in Layton, between 2012 and 2014.

So far, just 35 percent of patients — or roughly 2,500 people — who were sent letters by the hospitals have been tested, Angela Dunn, a medical epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who works out of the Utah Department of Health.

Although she can’t yet release specific numbers, Dunn said some patients have tested positive for hepatitis.

Not all, however, tested positive for genotype 2b strain, which accounts for only a fraction of all hepatitis cases.

The number of those diagnosed with genotype 2b is “within the expected range” of cases health officials expected to see, Dunn said.

Because genotype 2b hepatitis is so rare, those cases are likely related to exposure to the nurse, she said.

Of the 7,200 patients, roughly 4,800 were treated at McKay-Dee and 2,369 were at Davis.

Both facilities are continuing to offer free testing through Jan. 31 for the remaining 65 percent of patients who have been warned about the possible exposure. The testing requires a patient to submit to a single blood draw, and a lab analysis of the sample takes up to six weeks, Dunn said.

“Now that we are seeing associated cases, I urge those who did get letters to come get tested and not be complacent, thinking, oh nothing got transmitted,” Dunn said.

Dunn suspects that many patients have not sought testing because they are asymptomatic and “feel fine.”

A person with hepatitis can live for up to 25 years without experiencing any symptoms of the disease, which includes nausea, vomiting, fatigue and yellowing of the skin.

“Human nature is, we don’t take action until we feel sick,” she said.

A final report from state health officials is expected in mid-March, she said. Information about testing and the exposure risks can be found on the Utah Department of Health’s web page at: http://health.utah.gov/epi/diseases/hepatitisC/investigation.

State health officials discovered potential exposure at McKay Dee Hospital during a routine disease investigation for hepatitis C in September of 2015 after a patient was found to have contracted the genotype B strain.

That was about a year after McKay-Dee had terminated an emergency room nurse who had admitted to taking drugs from the facility, where she had worked from June 2013 to November 2014.

The Layton woman, has been identified by the Ogden Standard-Examiner as Elet Neilson, also known as Elet Hamblin.

The Utah Division of Professional Licensing suspended Neilson’s nursing license indefinitely in December of 2014. In January 2015, she was also charged with one count of third-degree felony drug possession in Ogden’s 2nd District Court.

Neilson pleaded guilty to a reduced class A misdemeanor count in May and is serving probation, state court records show.

Published by – The Salt Lake Tribune

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