The New Epidemic? Hepatitis C
(New York-WABC, February 11, 2001) _ Tonight
we look at a disturbing question: did a hospital mistake put a
nurse and her patients at risk? Chief investigative
correspondent Sarah Wallace joins us with a disturbing case
that is focusing new attention on a dangerous disease that may
be the new epidemic.
talking about hepatitis C. By conservative estimates, about
four million Americans are infected with the disease, far more
than HIV, and yet little is known about it. And here's what's
really frightening: Hepatitis C now kills about 10,000 people
a year. That number is expected to quadruple over the next ten
years. We uncovered a lawsuit brought by an emergency room
nurse who worries she might become one of those statistics.
Tonight, we examine what went wrong and why we need to know
about the disease some predict will be the new epidemic.
days, it's a struggle for Denise Glover to climb the stairs of
her Brooklyn brownstone.
Glover, Former Nurse: "It's like I have the flu every
is now too sick to work, and the terrible irony is that she
was a career nurse.
"Now I am on the other side and it is the most
frightening thing in the world because for me my health was my
only ticket to my independence."
is infected with hepatitis C, the most serious form of
hepatitis. It's a potentially fatal virus which is spread by
contact with infected blood. Like many health professionals,
Denise suspects she became infected through a needle stick.
She's not sure when, but what is fact is this: for eight years
beginning in 1989, Denise worked in the emergency room at
Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital. We've uncovered evidence that
for at least three of those years, there was evidence on file
at this hospital that Denise was infected with hepatitis C,
but she was never told- apparently a mistake. As a result, she
potentially exposed patients, colleagues, and even her family
to the disease.
Douglas Dieterich is a hepatitis C specialist.
Douglas Dieterich, Cabrini Medical Center: "Tiny little
blood that will get into someone else's blood is enough to
give it to you. So much, as a for instance, the blood on a
straw that people using cocaine, they can pass hepatitis C
that way, or sharing a razor or a toothbrush."
had been tested back in 1994 after possible exposure to AIDS
from an emergency room patient. The response:
"You're fine, go back to duty."
no state law that prohibits infected health professionals from
continuing to work with patients. But it's recommended they be
closely monitored. Since no one told Denise of her illness,
she wasn't monitored. And, although she took the usual
precautions in the emergency room:
"There were times when there was no time to grab a glove
and everyone has done that in the emergency room. You end up
with your bare hands because there is a life to save."
1996, Denise was getting sick a lot: Muscle pain, difficulty
breathing. She again went to the hospital's employee services
and was again given a clean bill of health.
year later, Denise and her new husband were buying their dream
home in Upstate New York. She applied for life insurance, and
took the required blood test. A letter came declining the
insurance because of her medical history. The blood test
showed her positive for hepatitis C.
"I thought they made a mistake."
when Denise had a friend check back through the hospital's
computer, it was there: In 1994, three years earlier, Denise
had tested positive for the disease.
"All I wanted from them was to say, 'well, to try to find
out what happened.' How did this happen? And I was told, well,
you know, 'you fell through the cracks'."
Investigators obtained documents showing the hospital was
disciplined by the Health Department for failing to notify
Denise and for other deficiencies: In particular, that
"the employee health services had failed to ensure health
care providers were free from health impairments which pose
potential risk to patients or personnel."
Denise is now suing, the hospital declined to be interviewed
for this story. But a spokeswoman told us that since 1994
there have been substantial improvements in their follow-up
procedures for health care workers potentially exposed to
infectious diseases and that hospital staff have always taken
precautions in dealing with patients.
because she didn't know about her positive result, Denise lost
years of crucial treatment.
"Treating the acute infection, treating it after you get
it within the first 90 to 120 days will make a significant
difference in the cure rate."
C is now the leading cause of liver transplantation in this
country. It's known as the stealth disease because patients
often don't show symptoms for years until their livers are
damaged beyond repair. Bill Hancock recently got a diagnosis.
He thought he was just overworked.
only current treatment is the drug combination of Interferon
and Ribavirin which can produce terrible side effects. A major
story in last month's "Esquire" magazine called
hepatitis C a pandemic, a classification just below an
epidemic. Aside from health care workers, hepatitis C
typically targets males who are now between 30 and 50 years
"Even being a roommate sharing a razor with somebody who
used I.V. drugs or had a transfusion before 1992, I think it
would be a wise thing to get the antibody test. It is quite
easy, you just ask your doctor, it is a routine blood
for Denise, that routine blood test somehow got lost in the
shuffle. Now she's lost her livelihood and can't get health
insurance. She was even forced to file bankruptcy.
"I hate waking up in the morning. I don't want to wake up
each morning because I am faced with the same thing."
court papers, the hospital denies any negligence. There is
treatment for Hepatitis C, but the drugs often produce
terrible side effects. Hopefully, the Food and Drug
administration will approve a new, improved treatment this