Nevada Hepatitis Scare Addressed

By Cynthia De Castro/

LOS ANGELES — After a round of testing on Saturday, news reports revealed that eight more former patients at the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada have tested positive for hepatitis B and C. These patients said they did not have hepatitis before being treated at the center. If officials determine that the patients were infected from their procedures at the facility, it will bring the number of hepatitis cases to 14 people who have contracted hepatitis C after receiving anesthesia from the center.

This development came as a sixth medical center owned and managed by Dr. Dipak Desai, one of the State’s most powerful physicians, was closed. Desai and partner Dr. Clifford Carol operated and managed all of the closed facilities, namely: The Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada, Desert Shadow Endoscopy Center, Spanish Hill Surgical Center, Gasteroenterology Centers of Nevada in Henderson, North Las Vegas, and Tenaya Way.

Health officials have not confirmed if the five other locations have exposed patients to these viruses, adding they were closed as a precautionary measure.

After a few hours debating with the City Council, the two doctors running the center, Desai and Carol, have lost their appeal to reinstate their business license. If they are convicted of being grossly negligent or reckless, they could face more than 20 years in prison.

Notification letters for 40,000 patients of the Endoscopy Center from March 2004 to January 2008 were mailed last week from the Southern Nevada Health District. They are believed to have been exposed to the disease when anesthesiologists reused syringes to administer medications. Officials recommend these former patients be tested for hepatitis B and C, as well as HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.  They are still trying to contact about 1,400 people, who doctors do not have current addresses for. It’s being called the largest notification of its kind in US history.

“These people are getting tested now,” Brian Labus, with the Southern Nevada Health District, said. “If we have positive tests, then we will be concerned about the people that they may have been in contact with, just like we would in a normal disease investigation.”

Southern Nevada Health District (SNHD) officials say they first learned of the problem in early January, when a routine investigation process found that practitioners at the Endoscopy Center were using the same syringe on more than one patient — exposing those patients to the blood of other patients. A City investigation of the center found physicians telling nurses and technicians to reuse syringes and vials to save money.

A class-action lawsuit has been filed against the Endoscopy Center.

Nevada healthcare had a terrible reputation even before this incident.  But public trust in doctors and nurses may now be at an all-time low. Already, the state ranks among the worst in the nation for numbers of doctors and nurses per capita, the number of uninsured patients, and the number of unvaccinated children. Nevada now has the indignity of having the nation’s largest patient notification of a potential hepatitis C outbreak. (AJ)

(For more information, the Southern Nevada Health Dis-trict Hotline is (702)759-4636 (INFO)

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