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Seventy-seven more people have been diagnosed with hepatitis C that may be traced to a Las Vegas outpatient clinic, where all these people had been treated.

The 77 people are among about 400 former patients of the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada who tested positive for the potentially deadly virus since the outbreak was made public Feb. 27, and who provided no other risk factors during follow-up interviews, said Brian Labus, senior epidemiologist with the Southern Nevada Health District.

The new confirmed cases of hepatitis C and those found earlier, brings the total number of infections linked to the clinic to 85.  Investigators do not know how each patient was infected, but they do know that each patient was treated at the clinic from March 2004 to January 11, 2008.  Authorities also know that these people did not test positive before they went to the Vegas clinic, but they cannot say for certain that they contacted hepatitis from the clinic.

Officials have determined that more than 300 other patients that have tested positive for hepatitis C could have contracted the virus through other means, such as intravenous drug use, blood transfusions, etc.  There are also many people who have tested positive who have yet to be interviewed.  Patients who were treated at the clinic were advised to get tested for hepatitis C, B, and HIV.  So far no cases of hepatitis B or HIV have been linked with the clinic.

Authorities have said at least 50,000 patients may have been exposed to unsafe injection practices by clinic staff who reused syringes and single-use vials of medication during anesthesia.

Patients who were treated at the clinic in late 2007 or early 2008 will need to be tested again in a few months because a positive result may take up to six months to show up.  The owners of the clinics have surrendered business licenses and paid $500,000 in fines.

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