The revelation of 77 new hepatitis C cases linked to the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada came as little surprise to the lawyers of clinic patients.
Local law offices represent about 850 former patients who have tested positive for a blood-borne disease, so the number announced Thursday is just the beginning, they said.
"As they continue their investigation ... you're going to see more and more and more," said Robert Eglet, who represents more than 270 infected patients.
The Southern Nevada Health District made its announcement Thursday after interviewing 400 infected patients. The 77 patients told investigators that they had no other risk factors to explain their infections.
Eglet said he expects many of the 323 infected patients who were ruled out initially will be connected to the clinic once they show that they tested negative for any diseases before their medical procedures.
Health investigators also will start finding clusters of cases as they review more cases, he said. Eglet said he has noticed a number of dates with small clusters among his clients.
A health district confirmation can help a case, but a case won't be hurt if it doesn't have official confirmation, lawyers said.
That's because the standard for proving a civil case to a jury is "more likely than not," said Ed Bernstein, whose office represents more than 200 infected patients.
Each law office is conducting its own investigations of its clients, asking questions and reviewing records. Those investigations have been hampered by a lack of access to patient records, which were seized by Las Vegas police for a criminal investigation.
Police recently hired a records management company to organize the thousands of patient files and fulfill copy requests. The records aren't expected to be ready until next month.
Lawyer Will Kemp said he hoped the growing numbers will focus the national spotlight on unsafe injection practices.
"Maybe this clinic was taking the practice to an extreme ... but that's being done all over," Kemp said.
He also said he hoped the outbreak would lead to higher standards in Nevada that eventually become the model across the country. That happened after the fatal MGM Grand fire in 1980, when the state's tougher building codes eventually were adopted nationwide.
"Hopefully, five years from now, we're the model for the country for health care safety," Kemp said.
Contact reporter Brian Haynes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0281.