Maryland confirms first hepatitis C case linked to arrested med tech

Health officials in Maryland confirmed Monday the state's first hepatitis C case directly linked to traveling medical technician David Kwiatkowski, whose arrest by federal law enforcement officials in July in connection with a hepatitis C outbreak in New Hampshire sparked a nationwide probe of patients he had contact with.

The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said molecular testing conducted at the Centers for Disease Control on a blood specimen from a Baltimore VA Medical Center patient indicates the patient's infection is "closely related" to other infections linked to Kwiatkowski. (There have been 31 at Exeter Hospital in New Hampshire.)

"This case is associated with the multi-state hepatitis C outbreak," the health department said in a news release.

The blood-borne viral infection can cause liver damage or failure, and lead to chronic health problems.

According to an affidavit filed in federal court by FBI Special Agent Marcie DiFede, Kwiatkowski has hepatitis C and routinely injected himself with drugs meant for patients during surgeries by swapping prepared syringes with similar ones he'd used before. Unknowing colleagues then used the swapped syringes on patients, the affidavit alleges.

Last week, attorneys for Linwood Nelson, a Vietnam War veteran from Baltimore, filed notice with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs their intention to file a claim for damages, claiming Nelson was infected with hepatitis C at the Baltimore VA Medical Center.

A health department spokeswoman said late Monday she could not confirm whether the case identified at Baltimore VA Medical Center and confirmed to be linked to Kwiatkowski by CDC testing was that of Nelson.

After the case broke in New Hampshire, four hospitals in Maryland identified and began testing more than 1,700 patients who they believe came in contact with Kwiatkowski.

Kwiatkowski worked at Baltimore VA Medical Center from May to November 2008, Southern Maryland Hospital between December 2008 and February 2009, Johns Hopkins Hospital between July 2009 and January 2010, and Maryland General Hospital from January to March 2010.

State health officials on Monday said although no reports of Kwiatkowski diverting drugs have been made in Maryland, the CDC's findings suggest he may have done so in the state.

Investigations are ongoing at all four hospitals in the state and more testing is expected, the health department said.

The department is also conducting a sweeping review of regulations for traveling medical technicians and other personnel in the state.

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