Bill provides funds to help hepatitis C investigation in LV

WASHINGTON -- The spending bill passed by the Senate on Thursday contains $5 million to assist investigators tracking the hepatitis C outbreak in Las Vegas, Sen. Harry Reid said.

The funding would go to the Southern Nevada Health District for expenses being incurred in responding to the health scare.

In another outbreak-related line item, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would be allocated $21 million in the bill for programs to cut down on medical errors that could lead to infections.

The agency's request included funding for awareness campaigns, with pilot programs to be rolled out in Nevada where eight acute hepatitis C cases have been linked to clinics associated with the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada.

Part of the CDC funding also would go toward genetic mapping of unexplained hepatitis cases in Las Vegas, a Reid spokesman said.

The aim is to determine whether the infections might be traced to the clinics where investigators documented unsafe practices like the reuse of syringes and single-use medication vials.

The health district's request also included $3 million for blood tests on 15,000 uninsured and underinsured patients and $1.3 million for follow-up testing on persons found positive for HIV or hepatitis strains.

The request also included $491,000 to organize medical records seized by the Metropolitan Police Department from endoscopy and gastroenterology clinics that have been closed.

Reid, D-Nev., had asked the Senate Appropriations Committee for $5.25 million for the health district. His office on Thursday could not say immediately how or why the request was cut.

Meanwhile, Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., said Thursday he continues to work on a separate track to seek assistance for Las Vegas health officials.

Ensign said he is working with officials in Nevada and at the Department of Health and Human Services "to identify how much is really needed and whether we can just reprogram this money" from elsewhere in the department to avoid new spending.

Ensign voted for the Iraq war funding bill that passed Thursday, but against a domestic spending package that may be combined with the bill, saying it contained "wasteful Washington spending."

"This bill is going to be vetoed so we still have time" to obtain Nevada health funding from within the bureaucracy, Ensign said.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at or 202-783-1760.