Reid seeks federal funding for costs in hepatitis testing

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., launched a bid Tuesday to obtain federal funding for Southern Nevada authorities investigating the hepatitis C outbreak.

In a letter to two other Senate leaders, the majority leader asked that $5.25 million be inserted into an upcoming spending bill for blood tests and follow-ups of patients of the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada.

The funds also would cover other expenses incurred by the Southern Nevada Health District, which has been responding to unsafe practices documented at the center, including the repeated use of syringes in a manner that contaminated vials of medication.

Six patients who contracted hepatitis C have been linked to the Shadow Lane facility, prompting warning letters to 40,000 people and inspections at ambulatory care clinics throughout the state. A seventh case has been linked to a sister facility.

Reid also requested $21 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the federal health agency that has assisted Southern Nevada authorities.

"While the full scope of this problem in Nevada has not yet been revealed, similar outbreaks in Nebraska, New York and Oklahoma suggest that these types of threats to patient safety are not limited to Nevada," Reid said in the letter.

The letter was sent to Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Sen. Thad Cochran, the panel's ranking Republican.

Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., declined to sign the letter, according to Reid's office.

An Ensign spokesman said he would find out Ensign's view on the letter, but he did not respond by deadline. Other Capitol Hill sources said Ensign was not comfortable with the funding that has been requested by the CDC.

The CDC is seeking funds to establish pilot programs in Nevada and other states to detect safety errors and prevent inadvertent infections. The agency also plans to spur industry groups to devise safer packaging for medication and equipment.