Eight more people from the Minot, N.D., area have testified positive for a strain of hepatitis C in an outbreak for which the source has yet to be identified, the North Dakota Health Department said Tuesday.
State epidemiologist Tracy Miller said 35 people have been infected, but the additional positive tests are not new infections. About 500 people associated with a nursing home have been tested so far and more could be tested as investigators look for a cause, she said.
The outbreak that started in August is from the same strain, but investigators are still trying to find the infection’s source. They’ve eliminated drug use, pain management treatments and emergency room visits, Miller said.
“We don’t actually have the exact source yet, but we have been able to narrow down what we want to do with our investigation,” she told The Associated Press.
Miller would not elaborate.
Hepatitis C is caused by a virus that results in an infection of the liver. It is primarily transmitted by blood-to-blood contact. The disease can cause serious liver damage or even death. Some people who get it recover, but most carry the virus in their blood for the course of their lifetime and can develop chronic infections.
Older nursing home residents don’t fit the group typically at risk of infection, Miller said. She said infection through injection-drug use, tattooing and body piercing is more common.
One possibility investigators are checking is a common source of medical treatment, Miller said.
The nursing home connected to the outbreak, ManorCare Health Services-Minot, offers long-term care services, but most of its patients come directly from a hospital for rehabilitation before returning home.
Miller said besides looking for the outbreak’s source, the Health Department is trying to educate people about the disease that can be contracted only through contact with an infected person’s blood.
The virus “is not spread by sharing eating utensils, hugging, kissing, holding hands, coughing, or sneezing, and it is not spread through food or water,” the department said in a news release.