Hep C News: Hospital Worker Causes Possible HCV, HBV, HIV Infections In Four States

Hospitals in four states are grappling with new incidents of possible contamination and infection with the hepatitis C virus, after a worker swapped out syringes filled with liquid painkiller. Contamination occurred when a surgical technologist used pre-filled syringes to inject himself with Fentanyl, a powerful narcotic that protects patients from the pain of surgery. He then replaced the Fentanyl with saline solution. As many as 8,000 patients, nationwide, are at risk for hepatitis B, C and HIV. Hospitals in Colorado, Washington, Arizona, and California have sent letters to surgical patients advising them to get tested for the viruses, but adding that the incidents carried with them a “very low risk” of infection. However, lawsuits have already been filed by surgical patients testing positive for infection.

Rocky Allen, age 28, was arrested in Colorado after someone allegedly saw the tech take a syringe from a cart and slip a s syringe into his sock. He later tested positive for Fentanyl in his urine. According to CNN, Allen has been charged with “acquiring Fentanyl through deception and subterfuge,” Allen allegedly stole the drug with “reckless disregard” for risk of infecting surgical patients. According to the Denver Post, new evidence shows that Allen may have lied about his previous work experience to get the job at Swedish Hospital in Englewood, Colorado. In San Diego, CA, he received training at Scripps Green Hospital. Allen’s job was to prep the operating room for the surgeons. There, he was caught trying to swap out a syringe of Fentanyl. He was terminated after being placed on administrative leave. It is believed this was his first try at diverting narcotics for personal use in a US hospital. In Washington state, three hospitals are notifying patients of possible infection after Allen worked in the area. Allen allegedly repeated the same behavior at John C. Lincoln Medical Center in Phoenix, AZ. The hospital was alerted to his infection by the Denver Post, which reports “there is no evidence that any patient has been infected,” at Lincoln, but “In the interest of patient safety, we’re taking a position of extreme caution.” His drug problems allegedly began while he was in the Navy, where he was court martialed, and given a dishonorable discharge for possession of Fentanyl. Apparently, his military record didn’t prevent him from landing hospital jobs in four US states. New hire background checks for Allen’s employment were always conducted by a third party. His credentials are now suspended. Anyone considered to be at risk at any of these institutions has been contacted and encouraged to get tested for HCV, HBV, and HIV.

Allen’s case is the latest to make headlines. In New Hampshire, a former medical technician was recently sentenced to 39 years in prison after causing an outbreak of hepatitis C, in which at least thirty people have been diagnosed with the virus. According to CNN, which has been reporting these situations in-depth, in one hospital, a co-worker found the technician was found passed out in a rest room with a syringe floating in the toilet.

Although these incidents are disturbing, the risk of infection from a similar incident is so low that people requiring necessary surgery should be able to undergo these procedures with confidence. However, these scares do show the need for increased security in protecting dangerous narcotics from theft, as well as increased screening of some hospital employees for narcotics abuse and hep C infection. These events are part of our nation’s epidemic of narcotic abuse.

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