Another round of registered letters went out last week to patients who may have been exposed to Hepatitis C at a pain management clinic at Norman Regional Hospital.
Some 500 additional patients received letters last week asking them to submit to a blood draw to determine whether or not they have the virus.
Norman Regional has now asked some 850 of its patients be tested for Hepatitis C, which may have been spread by a Clinical Registered Nurse Anesthetist who was not an employee of Norman Regional.
The additional letters went out to patients who had received pain management treatment between May 1, 1999 and Dec. 31, 2001.
A number of lawsuits have been filed in Cleveland County against anesthesiologist Dr. Jerry Lewis and nurse anesthetist James C. Hill.
The state health department has said that Hill told health officials he regularly reused needles and syringes while working with Lewis.
Originally, the hospital asked patients of the pain management clinic who had received treatment between Dec. 31, 2001 and August 19, 2002 to come in for testing.
Last week the decision was announced that the hospital would be testing patients who had visited the clinic as far back as May 1, 1999.
That was the date Lewis and Hill began treating patients.
Of the initial 350 patients tested, 52 tested positive for exposure to hepatitis C. In that number 17 also tested positive for hepatitis B, with only one patient still having that virus.
The investigation isn’t solely on Norman Regional. The state department of health is also looking into two Oklahoma City pain management clinics, where Hill and Lewis treated patients.
Hill has made no public statements on the matter, but Lewis has maintained that he did nothing wrong. To that fact, Lewis filed a lawsuit last week against Norman Regional and four of its staff physicians alleging his reputation has been irreparably harmed.
Lewis is claiming his right to due process was denied when he lost his staff privileges at Norman Regional following the positive tests for hepatitis C.
Lewis and Hill routinely performed spinal-block procedures and other pain management procedures at Norman Regional, the Oklahoma Center for Orthopedic and Multi-Specialty Surgery and Northwest Surgical Hospital.
Norman Regional attorney Glen Huff issued a statement defending the hospital’s actions and denied that Lewis’ rights were violated. Huff said it was up to Lewis to supervise Hill during any and all procedures.
In the lawsuit, Lewis seeks a temporary restraining order and permanent injunction to regain his staff privileges at Norman Regional. He is also seeking monetary compensation to recoup loss of business.
Several lawsuits have also been filed by patients who have contracted the virus. The lawsuits have named Hill, Lewis and Norman Regional as defendants.
Norman Regional Hospital officials gathered last week and held a news conference to update the public on the situation. During the conference, doctors estimated that only a small percentage of patients would likely have lasting effects from the virus.
In fact, between 30 and 50 percent of those with the virus will naturally expel it from their system. In the likelihood that the virus did remain in a patient’s system, doctors said the vast majority would not have significant liver problems.
Drug therapy is available for patients who have the virus.
Norman Regional has offered free testing to anyone who thinks they might have contracted hepatitis C while at Norman Regional. Hospital officials have stressed that regular hospital patients do not need to worry about having contracted the virus.
Throughout all the legal wrangling and newspaper reports, many patients still do not have a clear understanding of what the disease is, how it can be treated and what it means for them.
Hepatitis C is also known as HCV and is spread by contact with infected blood. Nearly five million people in the U.S. are infected with the virus, however, only five percent of that total actually knows they have it. Only one percent have received treatment.
The virus rarely causes immediate symptoms.
The virus most often affects the liver and can lead to cirrhosis, a disease that causes extensive damage to cell, and interferes with blood flow to the liver.
After someone is exposed to the virus infection usually occurs within six or seven weeks. Within two months, most of those infected have injury to their liver cells, but only approximately 35 percent of patients experience symptoms. Symptoms may include tiredness, weakness and weight loss.
There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, but it can be cured in some patients. Proteins called interferons can be given to patients helping them boost the body’s response to the virus. Interferon therapy has been proven more effective when used in combination with the antivirus drug ribavirin.
The hospital maintains several links about the disease on its web site. For more information call the hospital at 307-1000.