VANCOUVER Patients and staff may have been exposed to Hepatitis C by a former employee at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center, according to the Clark County Health Department.

Our caregivers work hard every day to heal and help patients, said Sy Johnson, Chief Executive Officer with PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center. We are all deeply troubled by this discovery.

The Clark County Public Health Department and PeaceHealth announced a joint investigation Monday. Dr. Alan Melnick, with Clark County Public Health, said Monday that they were awaiting test results for more details on the level of risk.

The joint investigation has revealed that some patients might have been exposed to the disease through the actions of a former PeaceHealth Southwest employee who left PeaceHealth Southwest in March 2014, said Ken Cole with PeaceHealth.

We have no evidence that this former employee did actually expose anybody to Hepatitis C, added Melnick.

Investigators said it could take until May 20th to get results from the test samples. At that time, certified letters will be mailed to all patients who might have received care from the former employee, Cole said. Those patients will be urged to receive Hepatitis C testing at the expense of PeaceHealth Southwest.

The employee in question worked in the Vancouver hospital from May 2012 until April of this year, officials said. The person's name and past job title have not been released.

Although the likelihood of infection is very low, we are acting with great caution to ensure the well-being of our patients, Johnson said. We take this very seriously. I apologize for the anxiety this is certain to cause our patients and their loved ones.

The Centers for Disease Control describes Hepatitis C as a contagious liver disease that ranges in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness that attacks the liver. It results from infection with the Hepatitis C virus (HCV), which is spread primarily through contact with the blood of an infected person. Hepatitis C can be either acute or chronic.

Approximately 70% 80% of people with acute Hepatitis C do not have any symptoms. For others, symptoms may include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, clay-colored bowel movements, joint pain, and jaundice.

PeaceHealth Southwest is working on setting up a phone bank and web page to answer questions about the potential risk.

PeaceHealth Southwest has the capacity to treat 450 patients at one time. It is also one of Clark County s largest employers with 3,400 employees and 600 active medical staff members.

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