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New York City Seal
Press Release
New York City Department of Health
Office of Public Affairs
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Sandra Mullin/Andrew Tucker
Friday, January 11, 2002
(212) 295-5335/5336


NYC DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH INVESTIGATING
HEPATITIS B CASES AMONG PATIENTS TREATED BY
DOCTOR'S OFFICE IN MANHATTAN

All Patients who Received Injections at this Practice are Being Notified of Potential Risk
and Are Being Advised to Get Tested

The New York City Department of Health (DOH) today announced that it is working with the New York State Department of Health to investigate the occurrence of hepatitis B in twenty patients who receive care from a medical practice operated by Dr. Seymour Halpern. DOH has been contacting all individuals who currently receive medical care at the practice located at 146 Central Park West in Manhattan, and is advising them to seek testing. Dr. Halpern is participating fully in this investigation and has been very cooperative.

All twenty individuals known to be infected with hepatitis B virus are doing well. While the exact source of their exposure to hepatitis B is not currently known, it is possible that it may be related to the improper administration of injectable medications from multi-dose vials. City and State health authorities are conducting an intensive investigation to determine if these cases are related, and to prevent any further cases from occurring. Dr. Halpern voluntarily agreed to stop administering injections at the practice pending the results of the investigation. This was followed by a commissioner's order, which requires the practice to stop providing injections during the investigation.

Dr. Marcelle Layton, Assistant Commissioner for Communicable Disease said, "While hepatitis B is not an uncommon infection, it is rarely transmitted in medical settings. There is no evidence at this time of any additional hepatitis B infections associated with this practice, but symptoms of hepatitis B infection may take up to six months to appear and some persons may be asymptomatic. As a precaution, the Department of Health is contacting all individuals who received any medication by injection at the practice and advising them to seek testing. I urge anyone who had an injection at this practice to contact the Health Department's information line at 1-877-817-7621." Hepatitis B infection can be identified by a simple blood test.

On December 19, a local physician notified DOH of acute hepatitis B infection in two elderly patients with no other risk factors in common for the disease. Both patients had received repeated injections at the practice over the past two years. Through its investigation, DOH identified the virus in 18 other patients who received similar injections at the practice. Though the office is currently open, the physician has cooperated fully with DOH and has not been giving any injections since the start of the investigation. The physician will not be permitted to do so until further notice.

The City's investigation thus far has included reviewing medical charts, and interviewing and testing all twenty patients who were infected; further investigation is being conducted into individuals who received injections through the last week of December 2001, when the physician voluntarily stopped administering injections at the practice. Because hepatitis C and HIV can also be transmitted in a similar fashion to hepatitis B, DOH is also recommending as an additional precaution that patients of this physician who received medication via injection also be tested for these viruses. Free testing for hepatitis B and C and HIV is being offered by DOH.

DOH has created a special information telephone number to address concerns of patients seen at this office. This information line can be reached by calling 1-877-817-7621. Operators are available from 9:00am - 5:00pm, seven days a week.

Information about hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a liver disease caused by a blood-borne virus. Symptoms can occur two to six months after exposure but usually appear within three months. A special hepatitis B immune globulin is available for people who have been recently exposed to the virus. However, it is only effective if given within two weeks of exposure. If exposed to hepatitis B, individuals should consult a doctor or the Health Department. Symptoms of acute hepatitis B may include fatigue, poor appetite, fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, joint pain, hives or rash. Urine may become darker in color, and then jaundice (a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes) may appear. Many people may experience few or no symptoms of the virus.

Hepatitis B virus can be found in the blood and, to a lesser extent, saliva, semen, vaginal and other body fluids of an infected person. It is spread by direct contact with blood or other body fluids of an infected person, usually through sharing needles, sexual contact or a needlestick injury. Carriers of the hepatitis B virus should not share razors, toothbrushes, or any other object that could potentially be contaminated with blood or body fluids. Hepatitis B is not spread by casual contact, such as hugging or shaking hands. Transmission from mother to child can occur during childbirth. Individuals with acute illness and multiple sexual partners may be at greater risk for acquiring the infection and should use condoms to reduce the risk of acquiring or transmitting the hepatitis B virus, as well as other sexually transmitted infections.

Most individuals recover completely and are only infectious to others for a short period of time. However some patients may have persistent infections and become hepatitis B carriers. Individuals with persistent infections are able to continually transmit the virus to others. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that there are 1.25 million Americans chronically infected with hepatitis B; the number of new infections per year has declined from an average of 450,000 in the 1980s to about 80,000 in 1999, according to CDC statistics. Additionally, CDC reports that hepatitis B is responsible for approximately 4,000 to 5,000 deaths each year in the United States due to cirrhosis and liver cancer.

For further information on hepatitis, visit nyc.gov/health.

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