PUYALLUP, Wash. - A nurse who admitted to using drugs meant for patients is the likely source of a hepatitis C outbreak last year at a hospital in Washington state, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a new report.
At least 12 patients were infected in the outbreak, the CDC said.
An investigation began in 2018 when health officials were notified of two patients who tested positive for hepatitis C virus (HCV) in the emergency room during routine surveillance, neither of which had behavioral risk factors associated the infection, according to the report.
The report notes that the nurse had "accessed the automated drug dispensing system at a higher frequency than had other staff members, admitted diverting patients' injectable narcotic and antihistamine drugs for personal use, and tested positive for HCV antibodies."
Nearly 2,000 patients were tested after the illnesses were discovered.
The nurse, only identified as "Nurse A" in the CDC report, had her license suspended by the Washington State Nursing Commission.
"Several epidemiologic findings in this investigation strongly indicate that nurse A was the likely source of infection for the 12 patients with acute HCV infection," the report said, which was published in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that attacks the liver. For some, hepatitis C is a short-term illness but for 70 to 85 percent of people who become infected, it becomes a long-term, chronic infection, according to the CDC. Most become infected by sharing needles.
Most with the virus don't know they have it because so few people show symptoms, according to health officials.
In a statement last June, the MultiCare Health System said in part, "Good Samaritan and local and state health department officials have conducted a thorough investigation and determined that one of our nurses was removing higher-than-normal amounts of narcotics from our dispensing system and admitted to diverting medications intended for patients."
"We apologize to these patients who were infected with Hepatitis C while in our facility. That should not have happened. The safety our patients is of paramount importance to our mission. As part of our efforts to notify, test and treat appropriate patients affected by this exposure, we are thoroughly reviewing the circumstances related to these exposures to ensure a safe environment for patients at all MultiCare facilities."
The facility, MultiCare Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup, is located about 35 miles south of Seattle.
The CDC said health care facilities "should recognize the potential for infections and other harms from drug diversion and minimize risks by storing controlled substances securely and routinely scrutinizing drug access logs."
This story was reported from Los Angeles.