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114 hep C cases linked to 2 Las Vegas clinics

/ Source: The Associated Press

Investigators think they’ve identified almost everyone who may have contracted the potentially deadly hepatitis C virus at two Las Vegas outpatient medical clinics, a top public health official said Thursday.

“In putting everything together, we’ve identified 114 cases in total linked to the two clinics,” said Brian Labus, the Southern Nevada Health District’s senior epidemiologist.

“We still have some analysis to do,” Labus said of the tally, which was up from 86 in July, “but we don’t expect the numbers to change much.”

District officials say nine cases of the incurable blood-borne liver disease are the result of the unsafe practice of reusing syringes and medicine vials at the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada and the Desert Shadow Endoscopy Center. Both clinics have since been closed.

The other 105 people were diagnosed with the disease since becoming patients at the clinics, but could have contracted the disease in other ways, Labus said.

Health officials say those diagnosed with the disease are receiving treatment. Hepatitis C can cause swelling of the liver, stomach pain, fatigue and jaundice. Even when no symptoms occur, the virus can slowly damage the liver.

While the health district has not attributed any deaths to the outbreak, the widow of one of the clinic’s former patients has filed a lawsuit blaming her 60-year-old husband’s hepatitis C diagnosis and death in 2006 on unsafe medical practices.

Labus said some 50,000 former Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada patients and 13,000 former Desert Shadow Endoscopy Center patients have been notified to get tested for hepatitis B, C and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. No cases of hepatitis B or HIV have been linked to the outbreak.

So far, 7,331 people have provided the agency with medical information to help with the investigation, Labus said. He said he hopes to have a final report ready for district administrators by the anniversary of the date the outbreak was detected, Jan. 2.

Both clinics were affiliated with Dr. Dipak Desai, a prominent Nevada gastroenterologist who headed several endoscopy clinics in the Las Vegas area. Desai surrendered his license to practice medicine pending the results of health district and police investigations.

Desai and other former clinic owners face more than 120 lawsuits alleging medical negligence and a class-action by patients who weren’t made ill but claim emotional distress.