Hepatitis C Outbreak in Utah Linked to Former Health Care Worker

A former health care worker has been linked to a recent outbreak of hepatitis C at two hospitals in Utah.

A former health care worker, who was previously accused of stealing drugs from both Davis Hospital and Medical Center and McKay-Dee Hospital in Utah, has been linked to a recent outbreak of hepatitis C (HCV).

In 2015, the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) partnered with both hospitals to investigate the outbreak. According to a statement issued by the UDOH, which outlined the results of the HCV investigation, the former health care worker had previously admitted to stealing drugs from Davis Hospital and Medical Center. Shortly after being let go from her position there, the health care worker found employment at McKay-Dee Hospital, where 15 of the 16 identified HCV patients had previously been admitted.

According to the UDOH, the health care worker was infected with HCV 2B strain, and is believed to have transmitted the virus to hospital patients through the usage of their IVs. The investigation has uncovered that 16 of the health care worker's patients were infected with the same genotype of the virus (HCV 2B). Since this genotype is rare, it was easy for investigators to trace the initial source of infection back to a patient in McKay-Dee hospital.

The hospital has reached out to more than 7,200 individuals who may have been exposed to the virus, urging them to come into the hospitals for free HCV testing. So far, 3,731 of the 7,200 individuals have been tested. Of the 3,731 individuals that were tested, 37 were found to be carriers of a different genotype, while 7 cases are currently being tested to determine the HCV strain of infection.

Both hospitals are still conducting HCV tests on the ER nurse’s patients who were contacted. Although HCV is treatable, it can be fatal if undiagnosed.

In the same press release, Angela Dunn, MD, MPH, a CDC epidemiologist stationed at the UDOH stated, “This investigation should show Utah residents their public health system is serving them well…we were able to identify an infectious health care worker, establish that the worker may have exposed patients, test those patients, and provide them with testing results. Everyone working on this outbreak should be proud of these accomplishments.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HCV is a liver disease that results from an infection with a blood-borne virus. In the United States, most HCV outbreaks occur through the sharing of needles, specifically those used to inject drugs. A total of 70-80% of HCV carriers develop prolonged chronic infection, although most individuals are not even aware of their illness since infected individuals can be asymptomatic or have only mild symptoms. The 20-30% of individuals who do develop more severe symptoms may experience:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Dark urine
  • Clay-colored stool
  • Abdominal pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice

Commenting on the ongoing efforts, Dunn stated, “This investigation has been a massive undertaking for both the hospitals and for public health. We commend the hospitals for doing the right thing and ensuring their patients were alerted to the situation and provided free testing and access to treatment where necessary.”