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Thousands more to be tested for hepatitis C



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LAYTON — About 2,369 former patients of Davis Hospital and Medical Center will get letters in the mail asking them to take free blood tests for hepatitis C.

The mailing is being sent to patients of the emergency room who received drugs through a shot or intravenously between June 17, 2011, and April 11, 2013. The request is also tied to the investigation of a former employee at the hospital, that also spurned a call for thousands of similar tests on patients at McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden.

"It is low-risk, but not zero," Utah Department of Health Epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn explained. "Hepatitis C is a disease that can lay dormant for up to 25 years. People won't have any symptoms, but they can still spread the disease."

The first call for thousands of tests came after staff at McKay Dee Hospital say they found evidence that an ER nurse, Elet Neilson had tampered with needles and equipment to obtain drugs from the hospital.

Neilson and a patient later tested positive for hepatitis C, though investigators can't be sure if the two diagnoses are connected. Neilson was terminated from her position there. Staff there are asking for some 4,800 patients to be tested. So far, more than 1,100 have complied. Dunn says health department investigators later learned of Neilson's employment at Davis Hospital.

"We had documentation from the division of professional and occupational licensing that showed the employee had been diverting medications at Davis Hospital while she was employed there," Dunn said.

Neilson pleaded guilty to attempted use or possession of a controlled substance, a felony that was later reduced to a Class A misdemeanor.

Hepatitis C is spread through blood-to-blood contact. While it is unlikely that patients caught the disease from Neilson, Dunn urges everyone involved to take the free blood test.

"This is out of an abundance of caution," Dunn said. "We know from needle-stick injuries from health care providers that the chances of getting hepatitis C through a needle-stick injury is only 1.8 percent."

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Michael Anderson

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