Four Patients Contracted Hepatitis C

By Kim Smiley

A cardiac catheterization lab was temporarily shutdown after four patients tested positive for hepatitis C.  All four patients have the same strain of hepatitis C which means they contracted the virus from the same source.  The investigation into this incident is ongoing, but no other connection other than the cardiac lab has been found between the four patients.

This issue can be analyzed by building a Cause Map, an intuitive root cause analysis that visually lays out the cause-and-effect relationships between the factors that contribute to an incident. The first step in building a Cause Map is to determine the impact to the overall organizational goals.  The basic information about an incident and the impacts to the goals are documented in an Outline.  In this example, the safety goal was impacted because four patients contracted hepatitis C and there is potential that more people were also infected.  The customer service goal is also impacted because hundreds of people need to be tested to ensure that they are not also infected.  Once the impact to the goals are determined, “why” questions are asked to find the causes that belong on the Cause Map.

Testing is necessarily because hepatitis C is often asymptomatic for many years so many infected individuals will not know unless they are tested.  Hepatitis C can be treated with medication and cured in 50–80% of cases, but there cases that cause severe liver issues. Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver transplants.

651 patients had used the cardiac catheterization lab since August 2011 and all are being tested along with 30 staff members.  Test results take up to 10 days to process so the final results on how many people were infected aren’t available yet.

New Hampshire Division of Public Health and hospital officials are still investigating to determine the source of the hepatitis C.  It was likely medical equipment of some type since hepatitis C is spread through blood to blood contact.  Once the investigation is complete, any additional information can be easily added to the Cause Map so that it documents all relevant information for the issue.

Once the investigation is completed, the lab will be able to make whatever changes are necessary to ensure that all equipment is properly sterilized and this type of event doesn’t occur again.