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Employee linked to Hepatitis C outbreak at NH hospital arrested, investigation widens to 6 states

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A healthcare worker is facing criminal charges after investigators linked him to an outbreak of hepatitis C at a New Hampshire hospital.

Hepatitis C is a viral infection that causes inflammation and damage to the liver. In the United States, more people die each year from hepatitis C than from AIDS.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced yesterday that David ­Matthew Kwiatkowski, a medical technician who worked in Exeter Hospital’s Cardiac Catheterization Lab (CCL), has been arrested and charged with obtaining controlled substances by fraud and tampering with a consumer product.

The affidavit filed in federal court in New Hampshire alleges that Kwiatkowski engaged in drug diversion by stealing syringes of the anesthetic Fentanyl intended for patients, injecting himself with the drug, and then replacing the contents of the syringe with another liquid, such as saline, before the syringe is administered into the patient.

Drug diversion can transmit blood borne infections such as hepatitis C and HIV from the drug abuser to the patient.

The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Public Health Services (DPHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tested more than 1,000 blood samples from patients treated in Exeter Hospital’s Cardiac Catheterization Lab and recovery room between October 1, 2010 and May 25, 2012.

So far, testing has shown 30 patients infected with the same hepatitis C strain as Kwiatkowski. All the infected patients underwent treatment at Exeter Hospital between April 2011 and May 2012, during the time Kwiatkowski was employed there.

While Kwiatkowski says he did not know he was infected with the hepatitis C virus until May 2012, investigators have found evidence that he had the disease since at least June 2010. The affidavit alleges that, by engaging in this drug diversion activity, Kwiatkowski recklessly put patients at risk of death or serious bodily injury.

“The evidence gathered to date points irrefutably to Kwiatkowski as the source of the hepatitis C outbreak at Exeter Hospital,” said United States Attorney John P. Kacavas. “With his arrest, we have eliminated the menace this ‘serial infector’ posed to public health and safety.”

Witnesses reported Kwiatkowski’s suspicious behavior, including that they observed him leaving the Cardiac Catheterization Lab during procedures, sweating profusely, having bloodshot eyes, attending procedures on his off-days, and that he had “track marks” on his arms.

Exeter Hospital released a statement saying the hospital followed up and evaluated all staff concerns about Kwiatkowski’s behavior and that he always provided plausible explanations. However, there were no reports of suspected drug diversion. Thomas Wharton, MD, FACC, medical director of the Cardiac Catheterization Unit at Exeter Hospital, now views Kwiatkowski as “the ultimate con artist and an extremely good cardiac technologist who pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes.”

Prior to working in New Hampshire, Kwiatkowski was a traveling medical technician who worked on a contract basis in no fewer than six other states.

According to Exeter Hospital, a staffing agency conducted Kwiatkowski’s pre-employment drug testing and national criminal background check prior to his temporary employment at the hospital in April 2011. The hospital hired him full time in October 2011, at which time the hospital ran a state background check and verified his license. None of the checks raised any concerns.

However, investigators found Kwiatkowski was involved in an incident at a hospital in another state where he allegedly stole a syringe containing Fentanyl from an operating room and replaced it with a syringe containing a different liquid.

Seacoastonline.com reports that the incident took place in 2008, the same year Kwiatkowski took a drug test and tested positive for Fentanyl and opiates.

“This investigation has taken many turns and is still an on-going investigation,” said NH Public Health Director Dr. Jose Montero in a release. “We know that this healthcare worker was employed as a 'traveler,' working through an agency in healthcare facilities on temporary assignments. We’ve been coordinating efforts with the other states where this healthcare worker previously worked and with the CDC."

In addition to New Hampshire, Kwiatkowski worked at hospitals in New York, Michigan, Arizona, Georgia and Maryland, Boston.com reports.

Investigators have not released information linking Kwiatkowski to any hepatitis C cases outside of Exeter Hospital.