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Twelve More Finkelstein Patients Test Positive for Hepatitis

December 26, 2007

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While most doctors are vigilant about disease transmission prevention, Long Island physician Dr. Harvey Finkelstein violated this vigilance when he reused syringes on his clientele. Although nearly impossible to determine where the infection originated, twelve more of Finkelstein’s patients have just tested positive for Hepatitis.

Twelve test positive for hepatitis B and C
By Ridgely Ochs |
December 5, 2007

As state Sen. Kemp Hannon prepares to convene a hearing Thursday on the Dr. Harvey Finkelstein case, patients of the Dix Hills physician continue to stream into Nassau County clinics to be tested for blood-borne infections.

As of Wednesday, six of 119 Finkelstein patients tested in the past few weeks were positive for hepatitis B, and six have been found with hepatitis C, according to the Nassau County Health Department. A total of 149 so far are scheduled to be tested by Nassau. More than 1,200 people have been notified by the state that they should be tested.

State health department spokeswoman Claudia Hutton cautioned that because the virus may have mutated in people’s bodies since 2004, when Finkelstein was found to be re-using syringes in multi-dose vials, it’s impossible to determine whether the infections stemmed from his improper practices.

“The cases may not trace back to Dr. Finkelstein,” Hutton said. “Hepatitis B and hepatitis C do exist in society and people do have them. Getting them from a health care exposure is rare; getting them any number of other ways is not so rare,” she said.

Hepatitis C is the most common chronic bloodborne viral infection in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 4.1 million Americans have been infected with the virus, of whom 3.2 million have a chronic infection that can last for the rest of their lives. One in 20 Americans will get hepatitis B at some point in their lives, according to the CDC; about 1.25 million Americans have a chronic hepatitis B infection.

Hannon (R-Garden City), the head of the Senate’s health committee, decided to hold the hearing as the Finkelstein controversy unfolded last month.

The health department came under fire because it took almost three years to notify hundreds of patients of the transmission and to urge them to be tested.

Hutton made it clear Wednesday that the state’s investigation of specific cases involving Finkelstein patients is done: “The epidemiological investigation is over,” she said. “We do not intend to do anything about test results. The reason we notify people is to urge them to get tested and to seek appropriate care.”

The state used genetic fingerprinting to confirm in early 2006 the transmission of hepatitis C in Finkelstein’s office. But because viruses mutate over time, it’s too late to use that technique now.

“At this point we are not trying to do a mosaic of every patient of Dr. Finkelstein,” Hutton said.

Although she said the health department “cared intimately” about each patient’s disease diagnosis, “what would be the purpose to figure out a second or third transmission except to sue Dr. Finkelstein? That’s not the health department’s job. That’s why people hire attorneys,” she said.

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