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Woman tests positive for hepatitis B after officials warned nearly 3K surgery center patients possibly exposed

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BROOKLYN, N.Y. — A Brooklyn woman has tested positive for hepatitis B after having a procedure at a New Jersey surgery center where officials later warned thousands of patients they may have been exposed to blood-borne pathogens like hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV.

The 58-year-old woman was one of more than 3,000 patients who were urged to get their blood tested by HealthPlus Surgery Center, which said their had been issues with sterilization. The warning applied to patients who had procedures at the center’s Saddle Brook, New Jersey, location between January and September 2018. Most of the patients were from New York or New Jersey, according to the New Jersey Department of Health.

She was sent a letter by HealthPlus on Dec.17 that said, “Lapses in infection control in sterilization/cleaning instruments and the injection of medications may have exposed patients to blood-borne pathogens.” The letter stated that “to date there have not been reports of any infections or illness related to the investigation.”

The woman does not wish to be identified because of privacy concerns after the test result, which she received on Wednesday, Jan. 2, her attorney Marc Held said. She’s also part of a federal class action lawsuit against HealthPlus that was filed in the Eastern District of New York on Monday. Her test results came to her days after the suit was filed.

“I feel completely and totally betrayed by HealthPlus,” the woman said in a statement to CNN through Held. “I feel like my life will never be the same.”

Held said his client did not test positive for hepatitis B before having shoulder surgery at the center in August, where she had her blood tested immediately before the surgery as part of normal presurgery procedures. Held, who is representing the woman along with attorneys from the firm of Robinson & Yablon, P.C., said there was no question his client’s positive test for hepatitis B came as a result of the surgical center.

“Going into a hospital or surgery center for any type of procedure is scary enough. Leaving that very same place with an unwarranted long-term disease, that could cause liver failure, cancer or death, due to on-site negligence, is simply reprehensible,” Held said.

Information from the New Jersey Department of Health was included in the company’s letter to the woman, and states that hepatitis B is an infection of the liver caused by a virus that can result in an illness lasting a few weeks or a chronic, lifelong illness.

An investigation from the New Jersey Department of Health found that employees at the center were not following sterilization procedures and medical instruments were not being cleaned properly.

The suit states that she “was administered medications intravenously and various medical instruments were used upon her before, during and after surgery.”

Mark Manigan, an attorney for HealthPlus, said that to the company’s knowledge, no infection has been linked to exposure at HealthPlus and that it could take months for definitive results.

“The DOH will perform a comprehensive analysis to determine if a positive test result relates to a pre-existing condition that may or may not have been previously reported or diagnosed; or if further analysis of potential exposure sources, including HealthPlus, is indicated,” Manigan said in a statement to CNN.

The New Jersey Department of Health was not able to confirm if any of the other 3,000 patients who were asked to get tested after possibly being exposed tested positive.

The HealthPlus website has a Dec. 29 statement from Manigan that states the center was closed on Sept. 7 after being surveyed by the Department of Health. Manigan said that at the September inspection, non-medical management learned that “sterilization and medication dispensing were not operating consistent with standard procedure,” which primarily involved orthopedic instruments and surgical trays.

Manigan’s statement also says that the day before the inspection, the facility’s director of nursing resigned, and 10 days later, two other employees were “terminated and replaced,” consultants were brought on to engage staff and the center is “confident that the issues raised by the Department (of Health) have been addressed.”

CNN affiliate WCBS reported another lawsuit was filed against the HealthPlus Surgery Center on behalf of six patients who were told to get tested.

HealthPlus Surgery Center offers podiatry, orthopedics, pain management, and plastic surgery.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Hepatitis B can be contracted through “sex with an infected partner; sharing needles, syringes, or drug preparation equipment; sharing items such as toothbrushes, razors or medical equipment such as a glucose monitor with an infected person; direct contact with the blood or open sores of an infected person; exposure to blood from needle sticks or other sharp instruments of an infected person.”

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