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N.J. warns 3,000 to get tested for hepatitis B

/ Source: The Associated Press

New Jersey officials on Thursday advised nearly 3,000 people who share a doctor to get tested after five cancer patients who visited the physician were found to have hepatitis B.

Ocean County health officials said two cases of hepatitis B were confirmed in late February as connected with the office of Dr. Parvez Dara, an oncologist with offices in Toms River and Manchester, near the Jersey Shore.

Health officials decided to send a letter to all his patients dating to 2002. The March 28 letter warns them of the risk and suggests they be tested for the liver diseases hepatitis B and hepatitis C and for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

State officials recently learned of three more cases, all in Toms River. How the disease was spread is unclear.

Linda Bradford of Bayville said she's worried about her husband's health after hearing news of the outbreak.

"The first thing I did was call my husband," Bradford told WCBS-TV. "I was terrified. Oh my God, what's going on here?"

Dara faces suspension of his medical license in connection with the outbreak and for other alleged health code violations. A hearing is scheduled for Friday before the state Board of Medical Examiners.

Until then, he is performing only patient consultations, not procedures, said his lawyer, Robert Conroy.

There is no proof the patients contracted the disease from Dara's office, Conroy said. All five patients were also seen at the same local hospital, he said, declining to name it.

Health officials said they ruled the hospital out as a possible source of the infection.

"The investigation looked at all sites where the patients received care. ... The only common site was the physicians' office," said state Health Department spokeswoman Marilyn Riley.

Hepatitis B is transmitted through exposure to infected blood, often by sexual contact or infected needles.

Dara's office treats patients with blood disorders and cancer, some of whom receive chemotherapy there.

Conroy said three patients were found to have dormant hepatitis infections that might have been noticed only after they started cancer treatments, which can suppress the body's immune system.

Meanwhile, Conroy said Dara has received only support from his patients.

"The doctor has never felt more appreciated by his patients than he does right now," he said.