Further Developments in the Hep-C Saga

The city of Las Vegas withdrew the business license of the endoscopy clinic at the center of the hep-c outbreak yesterday. I don’t see they had any choice — you know that every political office in the state is getting calls, emails, and soon letters from angry former patients and their families.

Here’s the thing: think about your typical colonoscopy patient. Middle-aged or elderly, likely married, probably not an intravenous drug user — probably not in any way at risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). So it’s highly unlikely that, if this outbreak hadn’t been caught and investigated, any of these people would have been tested for blood-borne illnesses like hepatitis or HIV. And they can be symptom-free for years and years, symptom-free and carrying the infection.

Potentially 50,000 unknowing carriers.

See where this is heading?

And here’s something else: we think of hepatitis and HIV as STI’s, but every outbreak of hep-c in the last 10 years has originated in a medical clinic! The practices engaged in at this clinic — reusing vials of medication and reusing syringes — are apparently widespread, even though thwey’re known to spread disease.

And we keep telling kids not to have sex. At least for hep-c, it seems we should be telling middle-aged people…. Well, the abstinence-only idea, that “Just Say No” BS, seems even more wrong applied to medical care. “The only 100% effective protection against STI’s is to avoid medical care”? That’s clearly insane (which might say something about the sanity of abstinence education); but it might make sense to start warning people about the threats that their doctor’s offices and, very likely, their insurance companies pose to their health.

If this story stays in Las Vegas, it will be a travesty. It’s not about a clinic in wacky Sin City that slipped up, it’s about dangerous cost-cutting practices across the medical community that are putting us all at risk.

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