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1/14/2013 6:00:00 AM
Hepatitis C lawsuit filed against Bullhead City clinic

Suzanne Adams-Ockrassa
Miner Staff Reporter


A Mohave County woman is suing the Ear & Sinus Center of the Southwest in Bullhead City after she allegedly contracted hepatitis C from equipment that was not properly sterilized.

Robert Mosier of Hodes, Milman, Liebeck and Mosier is representing the woman, who did not want her name printed because of the stigma that comes with the disease.

Mosier said his client went to the clinic in January 2012 to have her a nodule on her voice box checked out with an endoscope. An endoscope is a flexible tube with a camera and sometimes includes surgical instruments that doctors can use to check out the inside of the sinuses, throat, windpipe and colon.

On Nov. 30, the woman received a letter from the clinic stating that the equipment used in her procedure may not have been sterilized properly and suggested she get tested for a variety of diseases. She filed a lawsuit in Maricopa Superior Court on Dec. 27 after she tested positive for hepatitis C.

Calls to the clinic and to the Arizona Department of Health Services were not returned before deadline. The latest inspection report for the clinic on ADHS' website is dated Oct. 29, 2012 and shows no violations.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the virus attacks the liver and is the leading cause of cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver transplants in the U.S.

It is transmitted through blood-to-blood contact through needles, blood transfusions and sometimes improperly sterilized hospital equipment.

"What we want to know is why did it take the clinic until November to notify her of the problem? How many other patients were put at risk and why were procedures not followed?" Mosier said. His office has yet to hear back from Ear & Sinus Southwest.

According to the CDC, 3.2 million Americans have hepatitis C. The Arizona Department of Health Services estimates that more than 120,000 Arizonans may have the virus. Many people are unaware they have the disease because it can be difficult to diagnose.

Some patients develop symptoms within six weeks to six months after being exposed. However, other patients can go years without showing any symptoms at all. Symptoms of hepatitis C include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, vomiting, dark urine, joint pain and jaundice. Blood and liver tests can usually determine if a person is positive for the virus.

Most people who test positive for the virus have to deal with it for the rest of their lives. Some patients, approximately 15 to 25 percent of those infected, are lucky, and for reasons doctors can't fully explain, their body eventually sheds the virus.

There is no vaccine for this strain of hepatitis. There are vaccines for hepatitis A and B.

According to the CDC, contracting a disease through the use of an endoscope is not unheard of. The flexible tubing that makes up part of the instrument is sensitive to heat and can't be sterilized by heating it to a high enough temperature to kill microbes.

According to Kingman Regional Medical Center Director of Public Relations Jamie Taylor, the hospital has a separate department that makes sure all medical equipment is properly sterilized.

With an endoscope, staff have to disassemble the scope, then put it in a machine that wash all of the parts with an antimicrobial soap in hot water, soaks the instrument in an antimicrobial rinse, rinses it with water and then blows compressed air to dry the parts. The scope is then reassembled.

However, the endoscope may not be the source of the virus. A similar case of patients contracting hepatitis C after having an endoscope procedure was reported in Las Vegas in 2008. In that case, the virus came from a vial of medication that was used multiple times for multiple patients.

Related Stories:
• Hepatitis alerts sent to 500 patients of Bullhead City clinic
• Second Hepatitis C case diagnosed at BHC clinic


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