In Brief

A Washington Nurse May Have Exposed Thousands of Patients to Hepatitis C

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A hospital in Washington state is warning 2,600 patients that they may have been exposed to hepatitis C after being treated by a nurse who had the virus, according to news reports.

The nurse worked at MultiCare Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup, Washington, according to The News Tribune. Two patients, who were not at risk for the virus, later tested positive for it, after being treated by the nurse.

The hospital is offering free tests for hepatitis C and other contagious diseases to patients who received injections in the emergency room between Aug. 4, 2017, and March 23, 2018, and thus may have had contact with the nurse who had hepatitis C.

Hepatitis refers to inflammation of the liver that can be caused by a virus (hepatitis A, B and C are three of the viruses that can cause the disease), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Hepatitis can also be caused by other factors, such as heavy alcohol use.

Hepatitis C is contagious and is spread primarily through contact with the blood of an infected individual, the CDC says. Most people become infected after sharing needles with a person who has the disease; less commonly, people can contract it from using items, such as other people's razors or toothbrushes, that may have traces of infected blood, according to the CDC.

A hepatitis C infection can be "acute," meaning it lasts several weeks to several months. However, 75 to 85 percent of people with the infection develop chronic hepatitis C, which can cause long-term health problems, including liver cancer, the CDC says. Some possible symptoms include fatigue, nausea and jaundice (a yellowing of the whites of the eyes or the skin). But most people don't have any symptoms, so they don't even know they have the disease.

According to the CDC, 15 to 25 percent of people with hepatitis C recover with no treatment during the acute phase of the infection. Anti-viral drugs are available to treat hepatitis C, but these drugs can be expensive, Live Science previously reported.

Unlike for the hepatitis A and B viruses, there is no vaccine to prevent infection with the hepatitis C virus, according to the CDC.

Originally published on Live Science.

Yasemin Saplakoglu
Staff Writer

Yasemin is a staff writer at Live Science, covering health, neuroscience and biology. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Science and the San Jose Mercury News. She has a bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Connecticut and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.