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Hepatitis C Outbreaks: When Our Medical System Fails Us

If you spend any time reading news on the Internet, you probably heard about the oral surgeon in Tulsa, OK who may have exposed as many as 5,000 patients to HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Or, perhaps you read about the travelling health care technician, David Kwiatkowski, who left a trail of hepatitis C infections behind him. Kwiatkowski was a hepatitis C-positive injection drug user who helped himself to potent pain and anesthesia drugs meant for patients. He refilled the syringes with sterile saline. Not only did he expose patients to hepatitis C, he also put them at risk of insufficient pain relief or anesthesia.

These were not the first or the biggest hepatitis C medical-related outbreak in the U.S. Data compiled from 2008-2012 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list 35 hepatitis B or C outbreaks; 100,000 exposures and 300 confirmed cases.

It is tragic on many levels, not just that it happened, which in and of itself is awful, but that these outbreaks are preventable. For decades, advocates for medical reform have been lobbying for safer injection procedures, better surveillance over controlled drugs, and improved protocols for more effective infection control.

Dr. Evelyn McKnight has been advocating for medical reform for more than a decade. While being treated for breast cancer, McKnight contracted hepatitis C because the clinic reused medical equipment. McKnight transformed her own personal tragedy into a call to action, and founded HONOReform.  One of HONOReform’s crusades is the One and Only Campaign – One Needle, One Syringe, Only One Time.

The part of this that really makes me sad is it makes it hard to trust the medical system when you hear stories like this.  Fortunately, I know far more stories about lives saved because of medical help. Mine is one of them. Perhaps it is time to focus on good news, rather than the exceptions.

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