Hepatitis Outbreak in New Hampshire Linked to Lab Worker, Potential for Infection in Seven Other States

David Kwiatkowski, a former employee of Exeter Hospital in New Hampshire, was arrested and charged with obtaining controlled substances by fraud and tampering with a consumer product. The charges against Kwiatkowski relate to suspected thefts of fentanyl. In addition, Kwiatkowski, who has hepatitis C, allegedly caused at least 30 individuals to become infected with the blood-borne virus.

According to an affidavit filed in federal court, Kwiatkowski was employed as a medical technician in the cardiac catheterization laboratory (CCL) at Exeter Hospital between April 2011 and May 2012. The affidavit alleges that Kwiatkowski engaged in drug diversion and infected patients with hepatitis C. Drug diversion occurs when an employee with access, authorized or otherwise, switches syringes. This switch occurs when a person steals a syringe containing narcotics intended for a patient, injects himself with the drug, and replaces the drug in the syringe with another liquid (eg, saline), which is then injected into the patient. The investigation has revealed that 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.

Kwiatkowski has insisted to law enforcement officers that he only learned that he was infected with hepatitis C in May 2012. However, investigators have uncovered evidence that he has had this disease since at least June 2010, or two years.

Testing of blood samples from Exeter Hospital patients by the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services' Division of Public Health Services (DPHS) and the CDC has identified genetic similarities between Kwiatkowski's Hepatitis C strain and that which infected the 30 patients identified to date. All of the infected patients were treated at Exeter Hospital during the precise time frame that Kwiatkowski was employed there. The only known scientific explanation for an outbreak of hepatitis C at a health care facility over such a long duration is drug diversion by a health care worker. The affidavit alleges that, by engaging in this diversion activity, Kwiatkowski recklessly put patients at risk of death or serious bodily injury.

The affidavit states that Kwiatkowski is originally from Michigan. Prior to working in New Hampshire, he was a traveling medical technician who worked on a contract basis in no fewer than six other states. The United States Attorney's Office for the District of New Hampshire is collaborating with the CDC and the Departments of Public Health in those other states where Kwiatkowski worked to address any possible public health implications. There is no evidence to suggest that Kwiatkowski worked at any other health care facilities since he stopped working at Exeter Hospital in May.

If convicted on the pending charges, Kwiatkowski faces up to 20 years in prison for tampering with a consumer product and four years in prison for obtaining controlled substances by fraud. Each offense also is punishable by a fine of $250,000 and a term of supervised release following any sentence of imprisonment. The United States Attorney's Office and the FBI will be attempting to contact all of the potential victims in this case in the near future. The investigation remains active and ongoing.

For more information about hepatitis C visit www.cdc.gov.