Med tech accused in hepatitis C case pleads not guilty

A traveling hospital worker accused of stealing pain-killing drugs, contaminating syringes and infecting dozens of patients with hepatitis C pleaded not guilty to the charges in New Hampshire federal court Monday.

David Kwiatkowski, 33, who was trained in Michigan as a radiologic technologist before beginning his work as a hired temporary worker in hospitals across the country — including four in Maryland — has been described as a "serial infector" by prosecutors and an addict by investigators.

Kwiatkowski was indicted last week by a federal grand jury on seven counts of tampering with a consumer product and seven counts of obtaining controlled substances by fraud, the Justice Department said last week.

Kwiatkowski allegedly spread the disease by stealing syringes filled with the powerful narcotic fentanyl, using them on himself, then returning them to areas where unsuspecting coworkers used them on patients, according to court documents.

He is accused of infecting more than 30 patients at Exeter Hospital in New Hampshire, all diagnosed with a specific strain of the disease that matches his own. Other patients, including Linwood Nelson, a veteran of the Vietnam War from Baltimore who was treated at Baltimore VA Medical Center while Kwiatkowski worked there, have also come forward claiming infection by Kwiatkowski.

In court Monday, Kwiatkowski only said, "yes," when asked whether he understood his rights. Trial was set for the first week of February.

Bjorn Lange, Kwiatkowski's federally appointed attorney, confirmed Kwiatkowski's plea and said the initial trial date is scheduled for Feb. 5, but otherwise declined to comment.

Before starting as a cardiac technologist at Exeter in May, Kwiatkowski worked in 18 hospitals in seven states. Hospitals in Maryland, Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania have since tested thousands of patients who had direct or indirect contact with Kwiatkowski for hepatitis C.

In Maryland, Kwiatkowski worked at Baltimore VA Medical Center from May to November 2008, Southern Maryland Hospital between December 2008 and February 2009, Johns Hopkins Hospital between July 2009 and January 2010, and Maryland General Hospital from January to March 2010.

About 1,800 patients from the four hospitals were tested or slated for testing for hepatitis C. The Baltimore VA Medical Center confirmed one patient has been found to have a strain matching Kwiatkowski's, but did not identify the patient.

Attorneys for Nelson have filed notice to the federal government of their intention to file a claim against the hospital on Nelson's behalf.

Epidemiologists with the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene are assisting in the testing initiative, and the department has also launched an investigation into practices in the state relating to temporary workers. It expects to release a report on its findings next year.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

krector@baltsun.com

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