Ricin? Hepatitis C? What’s the World (and My Life) Coming To?

So my partner, she works at the state health lab. Her team does the outbreak investigation and labwork, and all the bioterrorism stuff. So you can imagine how soundly I sleep at night!

This week saw the release of information on a case they’ve been following for a while, which has turned into the largest notification in US history: 50,000 people are being notified that they might have been exposed to hepatitis C, hepatitis B, or HIV when they went into a popular clinic for colonoscopies. You can imagine all the bloodwork!

Here’s what happened, as far as I can make out (I don’t have much privy information, since a lot of that stuff is top-secret): this clinic is the place in town for colonoscopies. People come in from out of state to get their colons scoped — it’s a major clinic. Apparently, all that HMO dough from doing thousands of procedures a year just isn’t cutting it, though, because they decided they could save hundreds of dollars a year by squeezing every last drop of medication from those little rubber-capped tubes they fill syringes from. Here’s what you’re supposed to do:

  1. Figure out how much medication the patient needs.
  2. Draw that amount from the bottle.
  3. Throw the bottle away.

That means, of course, that sometimes you throw, say, 30ml of a 50ml bottle away.

But that’s wasteful, right? So here’s what the clinic did:

  1. Fill a syringe, administer the medication.
  2. Throw out the needle (but not the syringe)
  3. Put on a new needle, stick it back into the medication bottle, draw a new dose (which of course contaminates the whole bottle), and administer it.

They were apparently drawing several doses from the same potentially-contaminated bottle. 6 people have hepatitis C from this, that we already know of. There may be dozens, or hundreds, more, because apparently this was standard practice here for years.

In case that’s not enough, last night the police found ricin in a residence hotel room. Of course, that’s terrorist stuff, so the whole team is called in. All I can know at the time is “Dustin, I have to stay at work, there’s been an incident” because as you can imagine, terrorist stuff is super-duper-extra-special-double-secret classified.

But I did get to watch it on the news. In fact, the two stories which have been our life this week were the two lead stories on the local news this morning. Back-to-back.

There shall be no sleep around here for a while, as there hasn’t been all week. 50,000 blood tests is a lot to do. Naturally the health department isn’t handling all of them — still, records must be kept and processed, and samples must be analyzed, and there’s a lot of weekend and after-work hours involved in all that.

Imagine how boring my days seem in comparison. “I had a podcasting problem today.”

“Really? I saved lives.”

“Oh, well, ok.”

So it goes…

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