DHEC digs into 2 years of records in hepatitis investigation

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCIV) -- The Department of Health and Environmental Control is now seeking to test as many as 500 people who visited a North Charleston spine clinic and received injections.

DHEC initially sought out 23 people who may have been infected with the hepatitis B virus.

The agency announced Wednesday that it was greatly expanding its investigation into Tri-County Spinal Care Center's infection control and injection practices. DHEC is recommending anyone who was injected since September 2011 at the facility on Dorchester Road in North Charleston be tested for hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV.

According to DHEC, investigators found that procedures at the clinic may have been performed that resulted in exposure to the diseases.

"Since the clinic's injection practices have not changed since they began offering injections in September 2011, DHEC cannot ensure that patients who received injections at any time since then were not exposed to a blood-borne pathogen," a release from DHEC says.

The owners of the clinic responded Wednesday afternoon.

We have always used sterile, single-use supplies for injections. We do not reuse syringes or needles," said Chiropractic physician Cameron Wills.

The clinic said in a release that a technician last week examined an autoclave, a device that sterilizes medical equipment, at the facility.

"The Midmark M11 is a microprocessor controlled sterilizer. As such, if any factor is missing from the sterilization process the unit will shut down and produce an error code," the technician noted.

The statement went on to say that the sterilization process would not happen if the door to the device is not properly closed. The clinic added that its practice is to use temperature-sensitive packets that change color when proper sterilization has happened.

"The color change indicates the packets and their contents having reached correct temperatures for sterilization. This color change is the final indicator that a packet has been properly processed," the statement read.

DHEC began its investigation into the clinic on May 20 after three people were diagnosed with hepatitis B.

The state agency's ordered the clinic to immediately stop all invasive procedures while DHEC investigates. The clinic also has to provide records, patient and employee in formation and access to the building, officials said.

DHEC initially said anyone who received an injection at the clinic on Feb. 7 and Feb. 21 were called Monday night, which included 23 "at-risk patients" who were identified through the clinic's records.

The people contacted in the initial investigation were asked to go to Northwoods Health Clinic on Northbrook Boulevard to have their blood tested for hepatitis B, C, and HIV.

Patients with questions can contact DHEC at (843) 953-0095.