At least five people not yet identified by health officials say they contracted hepatitis C during visits to a Las Vegas medical clinic that reused syringes and improperly cleaned medical equipment, a lawyer for the patients said Friday.
They represent a fraction of what Ed Bernstein believes will be more than 100 people infected with potentially deadly diseases at the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada at 700 Shadow Lane.
"This is one of the worst catastrophes we've ever had here in Southern Nevada," said Bernstein, who has practiced in Las Vegas for 30 years.
Bernstein filed lawsuits Friday for two of those patients and another patient whose hepatitis C infection was one of six already linked to the clinic by the Southern Nevada Health District, Bernstein said.
The health district is urging 40,000 people who underwent procedures at the clinic between March 2004 and Jan. 11 of this year to get tested for HIV and hepatitis B and C. Health officials believe the patients might have been exposed to the diseases when staff reused syringes to inject medications at the high-volume gastrointestinal clinic.
The investigation also found other unsafe practices at the clinic such as improper cleaning of equipment used in colonoscopies and upper gastrointestinal procedures.
In their lawsuits, Nancy Shaw and Deborah Hall-Hilty say they contracted the potentially fatal hepatitis C while undergoing colonoscopies at the Endoscopy Center. Shaw's procedure was on Feb. 16, 2006. Hall-Hilty's was on Oct. 20, 2006.
Health officials have not connected their infections to the center, Bernstein said.
However, Michael Washington's hepatitis C infection has been confirmed by the health district, the attorney said.
The retired military veteran contracted the disease during a colonoscopy on July 25, 2007, his lawsuit says. His wife, Josephine, is a retired nurse.
Washington got the procedure as a precautionary measure suggested by his doctor, Bernstein said. He started showing symptoms of hepatitis C after the procedure, and a test later confirmed it, he said.
But Washington can't undergo treatment for the infection because the medications would cause complications for his diabetes and glaucoma, Bernstein said.
"If this was a restaurant and there were bugs in it, they would have closed it down," he said.
Bernstein also filed a class- action lawsuit Friday on behalf of the 40,000 patients who might have been exposed to infections. Lawyers Jan Paul Koch, Peter Wetherall and Will Kemp have filed similar class-action lawsuits against the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada and the doctors who own it.
Those lawsuits join about a dozen medical malpractice lawsuits filed in the past decade against the doctors, the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada and its sister clinic, the Gastroenterology Center of Nevada.
The malpractice lawsuits include the pending case of Kevin Rexford, who says doctors failed to diagnose his colon cancer because they were too busy to adequately review his case.
Contact reporter Brian Haynes at firstname.lastname@example.org or (702) 383-0281.