Image: Kristen Diane Parker
Colorado health officials say 10 hepatitis C cases may be linked to Kristen Diane Parker, 26.
updated 7/9/2009 6:14:01 PM ET 2009-07-09T22:14:01

A judge denied bail Thursday for a surgery technician accused of swapping out her dirty syringes for ones filled with a painkiller meant for patients — even though she knew she had hepatitis C.

Officials say Kristen Diane Parker, 26, may have exposed 6,000 people to the blood-borne liver disease. She's accused of stealing syringes filled with Fentanyl from operating carts and swapping them with dirty ones filled with saline solution. Ten cases of hepatitis C have been linked to one of the centers where Parker worked.

Fentanyl is a narcotic painkiller 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine.

At the hearing Thursday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jaime Pena played a June 30 videotaped interview with a Denver police detective where Parker said hospital officials never made it clear she was hepatitis C positive, only that she should follow up with her doctor. She had taken a blood test before starting her job in October and tested positive for hepatitis C.

She said she didn't follow up because she didn't have symptoms, didn't have health insurance or money for a doctor and she got distracted with her new job.

"I didn't know that this was going to happen to the extent of people getting sick, that's something that I can't give back," a tearful Parker told the detective.

But U.S. Magistrate Judge Craig B. Shaffer said the results of her blood tests were clear.

"Short of shooting a flare in the sky, I don't know what more they could do," Shaffer said of the hospital notifying Parker of her blood test.

He said her failure to follow up, and then her swapping dirty needles knowing they would be used on patients, made her a danger to the community.

Hundreds of worried patients of the two Colorado health centers where Parker worked took advantage of free blood tests to find out if they'd been infected.

"If it's positive, that person (Parker) killed me," Rose patient Pat Criscito, 57, told The Denver Post before learning her negative test results Wednesday. "It's murder, as far as I'm concerned."

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Parker, her hair tightly braided and in a black and gray-striped jail uniform, placed her face in her hands and cried at various times throughout the two-hour hearing Thursday. Her father, William Carl Parker, and two other family members sat in court.

"She's going to take responsibility," Parker's attorney Gregory Graf said outside of court. He had argued that Parker should be released on bail because her cooperation with investigators proves she was not a flight risk.

Parker faces federal charges of tampering with a consumer product, creating a counterfeit controlled substance, and obtaining a controlled substance by deception or subterfuge.

She could face more charges. Pena said he will seek a grand jury indictment later this month.

"Every time she did that she committed an assault," Pena said.

Parker worked at Rose Medical Center in Denver, from Oct. 21 to April 13. She came under suspicion on March 23 when a needle in her scrub-top pocket pricked a co-worker while the two talked in a hallway. She passed a drug test after that incident but then was placed on administrative leave and later fired when she failed a drug test after she was caught in an operating room where she was not assigned on April 13.

She then worked at Colorado Springs Audubon Ambulatory Surgery Center from May 4 until June 29. Audubon hospital officials said they hired Parker before she was fired from Rose.

Parker told a Denver detective that she previously had problems with painkillers and used heroin while she lived in New Jersey last summer.

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne disease that can cause serious liver problems, including cirrhosis or liver cancer. The illness is treatable, but there is no cure. Symptoms can include nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, pain and jaundice.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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