Hospital Employee Pleads Guilty to Infecting Patients With Hepatitis C

PHOTO: David Kwiatkowski
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A New Hampshire hospital lab technician indicted last year for infecting at least 45 people with hepatitis C in multiple states today pleaded guilty in exchange for a lighter prison sentence, according to the plea agreement obtained by ABCNews.com.

David Kwiatkowski, 33, a former lab technician at Exeter Hospital, admitted to stealing syringes of the anesthetic fentanyl intended for patients, injecting his own arm and then refilling those empty syringes with saline, according to the United States Attorney's Office in New Hampshire.

By pleading guilty, Kwiatkowski now faces a 30- to 40-year prison sentence instead of a maximum sentence of 112 years.

Kwiatkowski tested positive for hepatitis C in June 2010, and passed the infection on to the hospital patients who were injected with his used, saline-filled syringes, according to the plea agreement. At least one patient he treated died in Kansas, and a coroner determined hepatitis C played a role in that death.

"This development marks another step on the road to justice for this defendant and for his many victims," United States Attorney John P. Kacavas said in a statement. "Tragically, for his victims the defendant's admissions of guilt are too little, too late."

Kacavas praised New Hampshire's public health officials who reported Kwiatkowski to law enforcement in the spring of 2012. According to the plea agreement, Kwiatkowski had been fired or forced to quit for stealing and replacing syringes at least as far back 2008, but he would simply move on to the next hospital.

For example, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center fired Kwiatkowski in May 2008 after an employee saw him take a fentanyl syringe from the operating room, and he was later found with three empty syringes on his person, according to the plea agreement.

Less than two weeks after that, Kwiatkowski got a job at the VA Medical Center in Baltimore. A patient who received care from him on May 27, 2008, at the Baltimore hospital later tested positive for the same strain of hepatitis C that Kwiatkowski has.

"If he knew that he was infected and he put those needles back on the shelf, that is the definition of evil," Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News' chief health and medical editor, told "Good Morning America" last summer. "Anyone who was in those hospitals when he was working there is potentially at risk. We're talking tens of thousands of people."

Hepatitis C is a liver disease that can last a few weeks or for the rest of a patient's life, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The virus is spread through blood, and there is no vaccine. Symptoms include vomiting, abdominal pain and jaundice.

Kwiatkowski was arrested and charged on July 19, 2012, with acquiring a controlled substance by fraud and tampering with a consumer product with "reckless disregard" for the risk of others, according to the affidavit.

"The evidence gathered to date points irrefutably to Kwiatkowski as the source of the hepatitis C outbreak at Exeter Hospital," said Kacavas of the U.S. Attorney's Office in a statement at the time. "With his arrest, we have eliminated the 'serial infector' posed to public and health safety."

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