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ENDOSCOPY CENTER OUTBREAK: Hepatitis C case goes to trial

Robert Eglet’s client, is infected with hepatitis C, and his Las Vegas law firm going head to head with one of the largest drugmakers in the world and its international law firm.

It’s a battle that began more than two years ago after local health officials announced a hepatitis C outbreak linked to Las Vegas endoscopy clinics. Investigators said the outbreak was caused by nurse anesthetists who were reusing single-dose vials of anesthetic between patients at the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada and its sister clinics.

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Hundreds were infected and thousands sued, including Henry Chanin, upper school director at The Meadows School in northwest Las Vegas.

Chanin’s lawsuit will be the first to go to trial. Chanin, 61, went to the Desert Shadow clinic in June 2006 for a colonoscopy and within days was suffering the symptoms of acute hepatitis C, which attacks the liver. A blood test he took two days before his colonoscopy was negative for hepatitis C.

Southern Nevada Health District investigators eventually linked Chanin’s infection to the Desert Shadow clinic, though it has not been genetically linked to other cases.

Most of the lawsuits filed by patients named doctors and nurses who performed the procedures on them. The lawsuits also named Teva Parenteral Medicines Inc., which made the anesthetic propofol used in the procedures, and Baxter Healthcare Corp., which distributed propofol, under product liability claims.

In the past month, medical defendants in Chanin’s case, including Dr. Rajat Sood, settled their end of the case and will not be involved in the trial, Eglet said.

The settlement terms are confidential, but state law limits pain and suffering damages in medical malpractice lawsuits to $350,000.

That leaves the drugmaker and distributor, who are responsible for the outbreak because they sold the clinics large bottles of propofol containing five times the amount needed for a typical colonoscopy, Eglet said.

“Them selling these vials to the endoscopy centers is really what started the whole chain of events,” he said.

Only about 10 milliliters of propofol is required for short medical procedures such as colonoscopies, which take about 15 minutes. Teva used to sell the 10 milliliter vials of the milky liquid, but it stopped making the small vials because it was cheaper to make 50 milliliter vials, Eglet said.

The larger vials are intended for long surgeries, yet they were sold to colonoscopy clinics despite a “foreseeable misuse,” he said.

“Do you think any of these endoscopy centers are going to use 10 mL and throw the rest away? Of course not, and the manufacturers knew that,” Eglet said.

Teva was aware of the potential danger, having logged 148 previous hepatitis C infections blamed on reuse of single-use vials of propofol, he said. “They knew it was a problem. They knew there was multidosing with these vials.”

Chanin’s lawsuit also claims the drugmaker didn’t put proper warnings on the drug labels.

Teva denies the claims, saying its labels and packages warned against reusing vials of propofol among multiple patients, said Denise Bradley, senior director of North America Corporate Communications for Teva Pharmaceuticals.

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