Nursing Home Blamed for Hep C Outbreak

MINOT, N.D. (CN) – An “unprecedented outbreak” of hepatitis C at a North Dakota nursing home made at least 44 people sick, at least four of whom died, 13 people, including representatives of the estates, claim in court.
     Lead plaintiff Richard Kerzman claims he was one of the elderly patients who contracted hepatitis C from 2003 through 2013 due to the negligence of ManorCare Nursing Home and Trinity Health.
     Kerzman et al. say at least 52 people in and around Minot contracted hepatitis C during the outbreak. The lawsuit says that state investigators traced 44 of the infections to the ManorCare Nursing Home.
     Kerzman et al. claim the nursing home and the companies that provided phlebotomy, podiatry and nail care services there “flagrantly violated their fundamental duties to protect their patients and residents, and infected them with a deadly and debilitating disease that could have been prevented by even the most rudimentary care.”
     Kerzman is one of nine surviving residents who sued Trinity Hospitals, ManorCare of Minot and their affiliates, in Ward County Court. Four plaintiffs sued as representatives of an estate.
     They claim the negligence went on for a decade, until public health officials noticed in the summer of 2013 that an “unusually large number of elderly patients in the Minot area had recently tested positive for the hepatitis C virus.”
     A North Dakota Department of Health investigation revealed that the viruses were genetically similar, indicating a common source for the infection. The investigation found that “common factors between the vast majority of the victims include residency at ManorCare, receipt of medical services at ManorCare, and the contraction of a genetically similar genotype and quasispecies of the virus” between 2011 and 2013.
     Dr. Casmiar Nwaigwe, director of infectious disease at Trinity, said: “No matter how you do the statistics, it is impossible for (this outbreak) to be an accident,” according to the complaint. (Parentheses in complaint.)
     Nwaigwe is not a party to the lawsuit.
     The complaint also quotes North Dakota Health Department epidemiologist Sarah Weninger, who investigated the outbreak along with the Centers for Disease Control: “You know one or two is an accident but when you have 44, and we did, when we did testing, and one facility has such a high prevalence, that’s not … that’s not an accident.” (Ellipsis in complaint.)
     The plaintiffs range in age from 65 to 92. They quote Dr. Nwaigwe as saying that “an elderly person who has taken no risks associated with contracting hepatitis C should not have been infected with the disease.”
     Risky behaviors for hepatitis C include injecting drugs through shared needles, unsafe sex, and getting tattooed with a dirty needle.
     Hepatitis C is a potentially fatal contagious liver disease that causes nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, and can progress to cancer.
     Many of the plaintiffs were not good candidates for treatment, as they are, or were, elderly and frail, and some of them could not afford treatment.
     Behdad Sadeghi, one of plaintiffs’ attorneys, told Courthouse News that at least one of his clients had died of complications from the disease.
     “What has been lost in the coverage about this escalating finger pointing between ManorCare and Trinity is the fact that there are real people here who have a potentially fatal and debilitating disease, and who still are in need of compensation and treatment,” Sadeghi said.
     He said that ManorCare and Trinity “have been very aggressive in blaming each other. But our clients wish that they had been this aggressive in implementing infection prevention practices that would have prevented this outbreak in the first place. Instead of fighting one another and dragging this out, ManorCare and Trinity should come together to do right by their patients. We hope they do soon.”
     ManorCare declined a request for comment, and Trinity did not respond. A similar lawsuit is pending in Federal Court.
     The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 29,781 people were infected with hepatitis C in 2013, and that 2.7 million people are currently infected.

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