updated 12/10/2004 12:40:27 PM ET 2004-12-10T17:40:27

A company that makes substances used in some common medical tests has suspended operations at a nuclear pharmacy in Maryland as state and federal health officials investigate several cases of hepatitis C in the Baltimore area, authorities said Thursday.

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Those who contracted the disease may have received injections from the same vial of a tracer agent prepared at a Cardinal Health Inc. facility in Timonium, company spokesman Jim Mazzola said.

“From what we understand, there is a possible commonality of a single vial of tracer agent,” Mazzola said from Dublin, Ohio, where Cardinal Health is based.

State officials did not say how many people developed the liver disease, but Mazzola said the substance was administered to “no more than 16 patients” on Oct. 15.

The substance is among several common factors in the hepatitis C cases that are being investigated, said Karen Black, a spokeswoman with the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Nuclear pharmacies, which serve hospitals and imaging centers, make tracer agents that are injected into patients and then scanned or tracked through their bodies. Common tests include checking for arterial blockages, Mazzola said.

Mazzola said Cardinal has been cooperating with the department and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

State health officials have contacted hospitals to ask that they report any hepatitis C cases immediately, Black said.

Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by a virus. It can be transmitted when blood or body fluids from an infected person enter the body of a person who is not infected. It causes between 8,000 deaths and 10,000 deaths in the United States each year, according to the CDC.

If left untreated, hepatitis C can result in liver damage, which can lead to serious conditions such as liver cancer or cirrhosis.

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