Officials seek link among hepatitis cases


State and federal health officials are still investigating a suspicious cluster of hepatitis C infections in the Baltimore area and have temporarily shut down a specialized Timonium pharmacy that might be linked to the outbreak.

Officials at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene would disclose few details yesterday, including the location and number of victims infected with the virus, which kills as many as 10,000 people in the United States each year.

"It's still evolving," said Dr. Diane Matuszak, acting deputy secretary for public health services, who is leading the investigation. Local health departments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta are also involved.

Matuszak said that investigators are pursuing one significant clue: Everyone in the hepatitis cluster discovered so far has been injected with liquid from the same vial of technetium-99m, a radioactive isotope used in cardiac stress tests and other routine diagnostic procedures.

The contents of the vial, which contains a maximum of 16 doses, were administered to patients Oct. 15. Although state officials would not reveal where the doses were administered, they said that the source of the technetium was a so-called nuclear pharmacy on Greenspring Drive in Timonium.

The pharmacy, operated by Cardinal Health of Dublin, Ohio, prepares radioactive tracers for hospitals and radiology labs.

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