Sixth hepatitis B death reported at N.C. assisted living center

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A sixth person has died as a result of a hepatitis B outbreak at a Wayne County assisted living center, officials said Wednesday.

Carolyn Philips, 64, died on Nov. 23 after a lengthy hospitalization for hepatitis, according to her family. She had been a resident at Glen Care of Mount Olive between June and August, her family said.

Public health officials haven’t confirmed that the illness caused Philips’ death, but they did acknowledge that a sixth death was linked to the outbreak at Glen Care.

Ten Glen Care residents have contracted hepatitis since August, state officials said. Eight cases had been reported previously, but officials said follow-up tests on two other residents showed that they had antibodies that indicated they had the illness but had recovered on their own.

The conditions of the remaining two residents who contracted hepatitis was unknown Wednesday.

Investigators with the state Division of Public Health issued a report last month that said unsafe practices with blood-glucose monitors likely spread the illness. The monitors were sometimes stored together, weren’t labeled with residents’ names and weren’t disinfected after each use, according to investigators.

A subsequent report by the state Division of Health Service Regulation included information from Glen Care staffers who said lancing devices for blood-glucose testing had to be shared by all patients, and workers weren’t sure if the devices were cleaned before and after each use.

Hepatitis B is a contagious virus that can cause severe liver problems, and it is typically transmitted by exposure to blood or body fluids. Symptoms include fever, extreme fatigue, loss of appetite, vomiting, dark urine and yellowish skin.

Glen Care officials have denied any responsibility for the hepatitis outbreak, suggesting it was caused by people coming in from outside or by residents sharing drinks or having unprotected sex. Medical technicians said they never told state investigators that they used the same glucose monitors on different patients. 

The officials said in a response to the Division of Health Service Regulation report that they “strongly disagree” with the state’s findings and have asked for a meeting with regulators. The officials called statements by some workers “a complete fabrication” and noted that the operations manager has since resigned and that at least one medical technician “no longer works in this facility.”

The Division of Health Service Regulation ordered Glen Care to improve its infection-control practices by Nov. 19. The corrective plan included appointing a staff member to coordinate infection control, providing staff training on proper procedures and having a registered nurse or pharmacist observe blood-glucose monitoring of patients at least once a week.

It was unclear Wednesday whether state inspectors have checked Glen Care in the past two weeks to determine if the center has complied with the plan. Glen Care officials said in their response that they have had stringent infection-control practices in place for years.

The state hasn’t yet determined how much to fine Glen Care for the violations found by inspectors. State law allows a fine of $1,000 to $20,000 per day.

More than 50 residents remain at Glen Care.

Reference: http://www.wral.com/news/local/wral_investigates/story/8707153/

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