Potential Hepatitis C exposure at Vancouver hospital

VANCOUVER, Wash. - Some patients and staff at Peacehealth Southwest Medical Center may have been exposed to Hepatitis C, the Clark County Health Department said Monday.

Dr. Alan Melnick told KATU it may be a couple of weeks before they have the test results indicating the extent of the exposure.

Officials with the hospital and the county health department said the risk that anyone was exposed is low, but they are conducting an investigation out of an abundance of caution.

Sy Johnson, CEO of the hospital, and Melnick said they are working to come up with a list of people who may have been exposed to the disease. Johnson said those people will be notified and can be tested at the hospital's expense.

"We feel very sadly and apologize for the anxiety that this could cause people in our community and our former patients," Johnson said. "Again, we're here to care for patients and that's what we're here to do."

They said there was one confirmed case of Hepatitis C in August 2012.

They said that a former employee may have been stealing drugs for personal use. Johnson and Melnick said there is no evidence yet that there is a link between the hepatitis case and the employee or even if the former employee was stealing and passing the drugs along.

The employee worked for the hospital between mid-2012 and "recently."

Johnson declined to discuss the former employee's job at the hospital, citing privacy reasons and because the investigation was still ongoing.

Melnick also stressed that there is no evidence that anyone was even exposed to the disease but they aren't taking any chances.

A phone bank will be set up Tuesday morning to answer questions people have about the disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease that can be a "mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness that attacks the liver."

Hepatitis C is usually spread through contact with the blood of an infected person.