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County Public Health Investigating Possible Spread of Blood-Borne Viruses By Clinic

The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department announced Tuesday that it's investigating a medical office in the county where patients may have been exposed to blood-borne viruses, including Hepatitis B and C as well as HIV.

"An active and thorough investigation is being conducted to determine if anyone has acquired a blood-borne virus due to unsafe infection control practices during injection procedures at this medical office," the county said in a statement Tuesday morning.

The name and location of the office have not been released, but the clinic has been closed.  

The department is not releasing the name of the private medical clinic, which is the office of an individual doctor, because it has not been confirmed that people were exposed to the viruses, according to spokeswoman Susan Klein-Rothschild.

She said she is encouraging the physician to come forward and make a statement publicly, and notifying letters have been sent out to more than 300 people who were patients of the clinic between June 2014 and March 2015.

"We are contacting people in waves," she said, adding that the department is taking extra precautions to contact a number of people who may be at risk.

The department became aware of the possible exposures while investigating a case of Hepatitis C that may have been acquired from an injection at the local medical practice, Public Health officials said. 

"During this investigation, the medical office was observed not following standard/universal precautions to protect themselves and their patients," the department said in a statement, adding that the health-care professional at the clinic is cooperating in providing patient records and other relevant information.

Patients are being contacted individually and will be tested for Hepatitis B, C or HIV, and anyone found to be infected will be linked to timely medical care, the department said.

"A priority in this investigation is testing each of the patients who are possibly at risk for contracting a blood-borne virus," Health Officer Dr. Charity Dean said in the statement. "Each patient is receiving written guidance on where and how to obtain laboratory testing in a timely manner." 

Health officials stated that the conditions are not transmitted through casual contact and members of the public are not at risk if they did not have injection procedures at the medical office.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the California Department of Public Health are consulting with the county on the investigation and an information phone line is being established for patients notified that they could be at risk, which should be able to answer frequently asked questions and other information.

"We are actively investigating the situation to determine if diseases were transmitted and why," the statement said.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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