The Endoscopy Center Hep C Scare: The Number Could Climb Higher

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Las Vegas, NVWhile 40,000 people have been identified as candidates for testing in the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada hepatitis C scare, that number could climb to 60,000. What's more, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, such unsafe practices as re-using syringes and double dipping into single-shot vials could be more widespread.

Senate majority leader Harry Reid is seeking $26 million in emergency funds from Congress in an effort to help suspected hepatitis C victims who can't afford to pay for the screening procedure. Money would also go to the CDC to ensure that the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada debacle isn't repeated elsewhere in the country.

Dangerous Syringe"The Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada was investigated after it was discovered that a handful of patients had turned up testing positive for hepatitis C, most of whom were shown to be clear of the deadly blood-borne virus immediately prior to undergoing various procedures at the clinic. It has since been discovered that staff at the clinic had routinely re-used syringes on multiple patients, and had used single-dose vials to inject multiple patients. Even though clean needles were used every time, it was not enough to prevent the mixing of blood with those of others.

The clinic was shut down, the business license formally revoked and the owners of the clinic were fined $500,000—a fine that was duly paid. Nevada civic officials have said that the funds would help sort through, and organize the medical records seized during a police investigation.

It was originally determined that upwards of 40,000 current, and former patients of the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada could have been potentially exposed, and letters were sent out to alert those individuals of the possibility, together with a request to be screened. However, in recent days in has been reported that the health district in Nevada is suggesting that the figure might be closer to 60,000 according to an April 18th report in the Las Vegas Sun.

Of those, an estimated 15,000 are said to be lacking insurance, or the resources to pay for a screening procedure that comes with a price tag of $200 on average. While some labs offer free screenings, not all do.

If approved, $5.25 million in emergency funding would go to the Southern Nevada Health District (SNHD). Michael Walsh, director of administration for the SNHD said in comments published in the Las Vegas Sun that the funds would ensure that "the vast majority of people could get tested."

Funding would also be extended to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to launch investigations at clinics right across the country, to ensure that what happened in Southern Nevada, doesn't happen elsewhere. However, it was reported in the Las Vegas Sun that according to the CDC's director, the unsavory procedures at the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada that are believed to have infected several individuals and could conceivably impact thousands, is but "the tip of the iceberg."

While those in southern Nevada are referencing the hepatitis C scare as an unexpected crisis that needs immediate resolution and funding, the money is far from assured. Proponents of the emergency funding are attempting to push it through as an add-on to the Bush Administration's request for $108 billion in emergency allocation to continue funding the war effort. With the US sliding into a recession, President Bush has stated the need to be fiscally prudent, and has reportedly said that any attempts to piggyback additional budget allocations on the emergency war spending Bill, would result in a veto at the Oval Office.

In the meantime, the alleged cavalier practices at the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada continue to be investigated, and compared against normal medical protocols that are designed to mitigate the transference of blood from one patient to another.

It is not known whether the practices and procedures at the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada broke down as the result of budgetary constraints. However, it should be noted that patients normally carry an implicit trust into the examination room, together with the belief that sound medical procedure is a given, rather than something that needs to be questioned lest you wind up leaving with a potential death sentence.

With upwards of 60,000 patients now considered potentially at risk, participants in a class action lawsuit will likely grow as well.

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