The numbers have grown slowly, but they are still growing: A hepatitis C outbreak linked to Puyallup's Good Samaritan Hospital continues to generate new confirmed cases. Wednesday, experts from the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department released the latest figures from ongoing tests that began after the announcement of the April 30 outbreak.
This number now stands for 12 confirmed cases, all of which are genetically linked to the same strain of the virus. When the outbreak was first reported, the heads of the hospital and the health service said two cases were genetically linked.
That was almost three months ago. Since then, 1,858 patients, estimated at 2,758, have been tested for hepatitis C. Most of the results were negative.
The Ministry of Health has also identified 53 patients with the hepatitis C virus who are not associated with the hospital outbreak. Another five cases are still under investigation; the patients have the hepatitis C virus, but the connection to the outbreak remains unclear.
They share another common denominator: all received intravenous injections from Cora Weberg, 31, a nurse who worked at Good Samaritan during the period in question.
Puyallup police arrested Weberg in early May on suspicion of a two-degree attack. She was released without charge.
While she acknowledged diverting injectable drugs to help with a suicide attempt, she denied that she was injecting patients with needles she herself had used. The State Department of Health Abolished Weberg's Nursing Permit Following an Inquiry
While Weberg treated the patients, Weberg was not associated with the virus she was suffering from. She has been tested for hepatitis C several times. The results show only that antibodies in their system have fought the virus – the tests have not revealed the genetic burden associated with the good Samaritans.
Weberg's investigation did not close the investigation. Healthcare professionals tested two more Good Samaritan employees. Only Weberg showed signs of prior exposure to the virus. In June, experts from the Ministry of Health of Tacoma-Pierce said that the source of the outbreak was unclear. Nigel Turner, Director of the Department of Communicable Diseases, said "I'm not sure we'll ever know"
The agency recently updated its website with questions and answers about the possible causes of the outbreak.
"We believe in the source of the infection was contaminated medicine, needle, syringe or equipment that was used by a former health worker who may have taken some of these medicines for personal use," it says in a statement.
The suspension of Weberg's Nursing Permit was only one aspect of the state investigation. In recent weeks, the Ministry of Health has conducted three separate but contiguous investigations by Good Samaritan, the hospital pharmacy and a pharmacist working there, according to spokesman Gordon MacCraken. All three are in the "case disposition" phase and awaiting further action.
"This means that the investigation is complete and the process of deciding whether or how to proceed," said MacCraken, adding that he could not say
Marcel Edwards, spokeswoman for MultiCare, said the hospital leaders accepted state control as the standard procedure.
"The Department of Health is evaluating state health facilities and their review of Good Samaritan's operations was appropriate after our report of hepatitis C exposure," she said. "We welcome your review and evaluation."
About 900 good Samaritans have still not been tested for hepatitis C. Health department and hospital leaders continue to urge that these patients be tested for free.
"We are confident that we have identified those patients who were potentially exposed and needed to be tested," said Edwards
More information on testing procedures and sites can be found online at https://www.multicare.org /safety-alert/.