The head of a national patient advocacy group heard Monday how a virus has changed the lives of a couple whose civil lawsuit is the first to go to trial in the aftermath of a Las Vegas hepatitis outbreak.
The couple no longer have sexual relations, said attorney Will Kemp, who represents Lorraine Chanin, whose husband, Henry, contracted hepatitis while having a colonoscopy at a local clinic.
"She even changes the bed linen now with gloves on," Kemp told Steve Langan, executive director of the Nebraska-based Hepatitis Outbreaks National Organization for Reform, or HONOReform.
Kemp's comments came outside the courtroom on the first day of jury selection in the lawsuit filed by the Chanins. Public health investigators say Henry Chanin, the 61-year-old upper school director at The Meadows School, was infected with hepatitis C during a June 2006 colonoscopy at the Desert Shadow Endoscopy Center.
Kemp's information is the sort that Langan says fuels his organization, founded earlier this decade by Nebraskan Evelyn McKnight, who contracted hepatitis C while undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. She used settlement funds to found HONOReform, which public health officials credit as the catalyst behind a new safety campaign beginning in Nevada: The One and Only Campaign, which stresses one needle, one syringe, used only one time.
The Chanins are suing Teva Parenteral Medicines Inc. and Baxter Healthcare Corp., the maker and the distributor of propofol, the anesthetic linked to Southern Nevada's hepatitis C outbreak.
The Chanins' lawsuit contends the companies made and sold propofol bottles that contained five times the amount of drug needed for short procedures such as colonoscopies, which led to clinic workers reusing the vials among patients, spreading disease.
The clinic doctor and nurses named in the lawsuit settled last month.
Kemp said he expects jury selection to take a week at minimum. Langan expects to be there for much of it.
"The effects of these outbreaks are horrifying and staggering," said Langan, who flew to Las Vegas from Omaha early Monday. "That's why we're so serious about our mission -- to ensure that every injection is a safe one. I'm hopeful that this trial will make it totally clear on how vials should be used, and it can be made a strong part of our education materials."
Langan has met with research analyst Tara Thebus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas School of Community Health Sciences, which is working with the state on the new safety campaign. It will make materials on injection safety available to both medical providers and patients.
"We're holding a series of focus groups across the state, pilot testing materials to see how effective they are," Thebus said.
Currently, only Nevada and New York are rolling out the safety program.
"We're lobbying Congress to get this kind of program across the nation," Langan said.
He is meeting this week with several people who contracted hepatitis C and with attorneys and public health officials.
"We want to ensure as much as we can the rights of the patients that were infected," he said.
HONOReform first became known to Nevadans when Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, and Dr. Lawrence Sands of the Southern Nevada Health District asked McKnight to testify during a Legislative Committee on Health Care hearing shortly after the hepatitis outbreak in Las Vegas became public.
With well over 100,000 Americans placed in direct risk of contracting hepatitis, HIV and other blood-borne diseases through more than 35 known outbreaks over the past decade, McKnight said it was clear that there was a breakdown in the injection safety process.
McKnight worked to help develop the Safe Injection Practices Coalition, made up of patient advocacy organizations, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and provider associations and societies. In February 2009, that coalition joined Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Las Vegas, and Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., to launch The One and Only Campaign.
The materials that will be sent to medical providers in the new One and Only campaign include this information: A 2002 survey done by the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists found that 31 percent of providers indicated that they reuse needles and/or syringes on the same patient.
Ben Kieckhefer, a spokesman for the Nevada State Health Division, said the new safety campaign should go into effect this year.
"There is clearly a need for re-education," Langan said. "This is something that every health care professional is taught not to do, and yet they do it anyway. And we want patients to be armed with information."
Patients will be given materials that include these questions for their medical providers:
"Will there be a new needle, new syringe, and a new vial for this procedure or injection?"
"Can you tell me how you prevent the spread of infections in your facility?"
Contact reporter Paul Harasim at pharasim@ reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2908.