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Some 3,000 New Jersey Citizens Advised To Get Tested For Hepatitis B

April 3, 2009

Nearly 3,000 New Jersey residents who share the same doctor have been advised by officials to get tested for hepatitis B after five cancer patients who visited the physician were found to have it, the Associated Press reported.

Marilyn Riley, spokeswoman for the state Health Department, said on Thursday that two cases of hepatitis B were confirmed in late February to be connected with the office of Dr. Parvez Dara, an oncologist with offices in Toms River and Manchester, near the Jersey Shore.

Three more cases in Toms River were also discovered, in which the patients were also under Dara’s care. Riley said they were older adults who didn’t have other risk factors.

A letter was issued to all Dara’s patients since 2002, warning them of the risk and suggesting they be tested for the liver diseases hepatitis B and hepatitis C and for HIV.

Hepatitis B is transmitted through exposure to infected blood, often by sexual contact or infected needles.

Dara’s office treats patients with blood disorders and cancer, some of which receive chemotherapy within the office.

Riley said evidence suggests the infections are likely linked to the method the clinical staff used to administer injectable medications such as chemotherapy.

“There’s no evidence to suggest the medications were a problem,” he added.

A hearing for Dara is scheduled for Friday before the state Board of Medical Examiners. He faces suspension of his medical license in connection with the outbreak and for other several alleged health code violations.

Dara’s lawyer, Robert Conroy, said until the hearing, Dara is only performing patient consultations, not procedures.

Dara has infection control violations dating to 2002, including violations of standards of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, according to a report by the state epidemiology division.

However, there is no proof the patients got the disease from Dara’s office and other factors aren’t being considered, Conroy said. He added that all five patients were also seen at Community Medical Center in Toms River.

The hospital has been ruled out as a possible source of the infection, according to health officials in the area.

At least three patients were noted to have dormant hepatitis infections that might have been noticed only after they started cancer treatments, which can suppress the body’s immune system, Conroy said.

Yet there could be another possible source since the patients live in the same area.

Conroy wrote in a letter to the Medical Examiners Board: “Absent any evidence, it is just as likely that those patients were infected (at) … a common eatery.”

The attorney also said Dara has received only support from his patients and has never felt “more appreciated” by them than he does right now.

No new cases have been reported since the alert was issued, according to Ocean County Health Department spokesman Edward Rumen.

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