Local News

State investigating hepatitis deaths at assisted living center

Posted October 19, 2010 12:41 p.m. EDT
Updated October 19, 2010 6:56 p.m. EDT

— State public health officials said Tuesday that they are investigating a hepatitis B outbreak at a Wayne County assisted living center that has led to four deaths.

Five people at Glen Care of Mount Olive have tested positive for hepatitis B since August, and four of them have died, officials with the state Division of Public Health said.

The people who died ranged in age from 63 to 83. The lone survivor, who is 57, remains hospitalized, but state officials said that person's condition is improving.

“We are working with facility staff to ensure that any residents or staff who may have been exposed receive proper care and to prevent any further spread of the virus,” State Health Director Dr. Jeffrey Engel said in a statement.

Officials at Glen Care have started testing all residents for hepatitis and, at the urging of public health officials, will likely vaccinate the residents to prevent future hepatitis outbreaks.

State health officials learned about the outbreak last week, and local police were notified Tuesday.

A Glen Care representative declined to comment.

Hepatitis B is a contagious virus that can cause severe liver problems, and it is typically transmitted by exposure to blood or body fluids. Symptoms include fever, extreme fatigue, loss of appetite, vomiting, dark urine and yellowish skin.

Public health physicians and Wayne County Health Department workers are trying to determine the cause of the infections and to ensure the safety of other residents.

"Compared to hepatitis C or HIV, hepatitis B is a lot heartier, so it will last longer on a surface than HIV would," State Epidemiologist Dr. Megan Davies said. "You can transmit it if equipment becomes contaminated, even if it's not visually contaminated."

Glen Care has a three-star rating, out of a possible four, on a state rating system.

"There was nothing egregious going on, like needles being shared or anything like that, but some of the other things that are less obvious, potential risks we did review with (facility managers)," Davies said.

The incubation period for hepatitis B is ranges from six weeks to six months, Davies said. So it's possible that more Glen Care residents could test positive as a result of the outbreak, she said.

The state has sent the operators of 1,300 adult care homes statewide guidelines from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to remind them of appropriate infection control procedures.

"In a facility like this, it can often be a health care-related infection, where there's a breakdown in infection-control procedures," Davies said.