Las Vegas Liver Doctors See Increase in Patients

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Liver specialists in Las Vegas say they are seeing an increase in patients since an outbreak of hepatitis C cases linked to an endoscopy clinic was announced by state health officials in February.

Dr. Robert Gish, a California physician who has had a part-time practice in Nevada for the past two decades, said his patient load
has doubled since the outbreak was made public.

Some of his new patients underwent procedures at the 700 Shadow
Lane facility and have tested positive for hepatitis C. Other patients are just learning they have the disease and are seeking treatment, Gish said.

Dr. Donald Hillebrand, another liver specialist from California with a part-time Nevada practice, said his patient load "has picked up substantially."

Hillebrand was hired by Southwest Medical Associates in April to help with an anticipated growth in liver patients as a result of the outbreak, linked to the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada.

"I've seen a few individuals that were patients of the Endoscopy Center. Some of them have reasons for liver disease independent of the procedures," Hillebrand told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

"It is going to be a difficult task for someone to sort that out, to determine whether they got the disease at the clinic versus another time in life," he said.

So far, eight hepatitis C cases have been linked to the center and one to Desert Shadow Endoscopy Center. Both facilities are closed.

An investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Southern Nevada Health District revealed that the reuse of syringes in a manner that contaminated vials of medication - and the reuse of those vials intended for a single patient - had exposed patients to hepatitis B and C and HIV.

Since late February, health officials have urged more than 60,000 former patients of the two clinics to get tested for hepatitis and HIV.

So far, about 400 former patients have tested positive for hepatitis C, but health officials are unable to say with certainty they acquired the liver-destroying disease at the endoscopy center. There's a possibility that 77 of them may have contracted it at the clinic, health officials have said.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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