Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Concerns prompt state to change hepatitis C testing method

Union Leader Correspondent
EXETER — Just hours after the state announced plans to perform quick hepatitis C tests done by finger pricks on an estimated 6,000 former Exeter Hospital patients beginning this weekend, officials are now scrambling to change their plans after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expressed concerns about the test's reliability on such a large scale.

Dr. Jose Montero, the state's public health director, said that after discussions with the CDC Tuesday afternoon, the state decided that it would have to draw blood and perform regular lab tests in the same way that other patients have been tested since the outbreak began in May.

One complicating factor is that many of those lined up to perform the rapid tests are not properly trained to take regular blood draws, Montero admitted. The state is now reaching out to health care providers around the state to find volunteers who are trained to take the blood.

The state Department of Public Health had planned to offer a so-called “rapid test” that can be done at the clinic site and would give patients results before they left. The state preferred the test to shorten the wait time for patients.

While Montero insisted that the rapid test is reliable and equivalent to a regular blood test, the CDC expressed concern about its reliability because it's “never been done in this magnitude,” Montero said.

“We don't want to mislead anybody with a negative result that may not be truth,” Montero said.

Given the concerns, Montero said the state now plans to perform regular blood draws that will give patients final results in a matter of a few days to up to a week or possibly longer, depending on whether it's positive or negative. However, blood from those draws will be used for the rapid test as well so patients can get a quick preliminary result before they leave the clinic, Montero said. They will have to wait to hear back on the final result after it's sent to the lab.

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