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Long Island Doctor reused needles, put patients at risk
  BY MICHAEL AMON, November 13, 2007
About 630 patients of a Nassau County physician who reused needles and syringes have been notified that they are at risk for HIV and hepatitis B and C, state and county health officials said yesterday. At least two of the doctor's patients have already contracted hepatitis C.
The state and county health departments knew about the two hepatitis C infections for about a year and a half but did not notify most of the other patients until Saturday when the state health department sent letters by mail, officials said.
Claudia Hutton, a state health department spokeswoman, said the department could not notify the 630 at-risk patients until its three-year investigation was concluded.
The physician, an anesthesiologist, was not identified, nor was the pain management clinic and orthopedist's office where he worked. The clinic and office are part of the same unidentified health care system. A probe that began in 2004 found that for five years, from 2000 to 2005, the doctor regularly used the same needle and syringe on multiple patients, officials said.
"He clearly was using incorrect infection control procedures," Hutton said.
The practice "likely" led to two of his patients contracting hepatitis C, a potentially fatal liver disease, officials said.
The physician continues to practice on Long Island after "being instructed on proper procedures," Hutton said. He will be monitored for three years "periodically" by state and county health officials, Hutton said.
Hutton said the department could not identify the physician because the Office of Professional Medical Conduct -- the state's disciplinary board for doctors -- had closed a case against him without any violations.
Nassau Health Commissioner Dr. Abby Greenberg said the physician cooperated in the investigation and that "the people who have a need to know [his identity] have been notified directly.
"The physician has remediated the problems and is entitled to continue to practice. One can understand that," Greenberg said. "That's the state's position and we're following their lead."
Patients who had been injected by the physician between Jan. 1, 2000, and Jan. 15, 2005, were advised in the health department letter to get tested for HIV and hepatitis B and C -- diseases that can be transmitted by blood. Patients should receive the letter this week. If any of them is found to have contracted the diseases, others who have been in close contact with them will then also be tested, Greenberg said.
"Transmission of hepatitis in a medical setting is rare, but as a precaution we are reaching out to anyone who could have potentially been exposed," state Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines said in a statement urging letter recipients to contact a doctor and get tested.
The probe began in 2004 when a hepatitis C case was discovered, Greenberg said. County investigators traced the infection back to the physician and, with the help of state health investigators, linked to the doctor a second hepatitis C case discovered in 2005, Greenberg said.
Using DNA tests, state investigators determined that both of the hepatitis C cases were "likely" caused by exposure to the same syringe, Hutton said. The health department notified about 36 of the physician's patients in 2005, but decided to do a wider notification after "it became clear the problems went deeper," Hutton said.
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