One of the 3,700 patients potentially exposed to serious illnesses at the HealthPlus Surgery Center in Saddle Brook has tested positive for hepatitis, the center's attorney confirmed this weekend.

So far, only 186 patients have been tested. The center is paying for testing for all patients treated between Jan. 1 and Sept. 7 of this year after a state Department of Health inspection found multiple conditions it said put patients at risk of contracting hepatitis and HIV, among other infections.

But health officials have said the risk of infection is low, and attorney Mark Manigan said preliminary results suggest a pre-existing condition of chronic hepatitis  -- "but the ultimate determination on that is for DOH (state Department of Health) to make, and the Department will perform a comprehensive analysis."

In a letter published Saturday, Manigan said HealthPlus was aware of many patients with pre-existing conditions, and "we expect to find more as the process continues."

"The DOH also recognizes that within this population there could be undiagnosed cases of pre-existing conditions, and on the basis of what we know and don’t know, the appropriate response is to test," Manigan said.

Problems at HealthPlus were first discovered during a Sept. 7 inspection that briefly shut the facility. Patients put at risk of infection were notified this month, and offered free testing via LapCorp.

According to a DOH report, sterile instruments were observed with debris in their hinges, rusty and discolored.

The state also found instructions weren't available for all instruments, biologicals were being used incorrectly, validation testing wasn't done correctly, and competencies weren't completed for three staff members regarding infection control. In one case, inspectors also found a stretcher with a sheet that had a wet, red stain.

In his public statement. Manigan said HealthPlus' director of nursing resigned the day prior to the inspection. Later that month, two more employees were terminated.

Throughout the statement, he stressed efforts HealthPlus has undertaken to cooperate with the DOH investigation, and its move to engage outside consultants to begin addressing problems.

"If there is a public health issue, DOH will be the first to report it," Manigan wrote.

A Passaic County couple is seeking class-action status for a lawsuit against the surgery center, saying former patients and their partners “now live in fear of their exposure to these potentially fatal viruses.”

The complaint says the plaintiffs “have suffered and continue to suffer physical pain, emotional anguish, distress, fear, anxiety, humiliation, embarrassment and other physical and emotional injuries and damages (both economic and non-economic), as well as permanent disability, in the past, present, and future.” The complaint also makes a spousal claim of negligence and a claim for depriving the spouse of “society, consortium, companionship and services.”

HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. With proper treatment, viral loads can often be brought to undetectable levels — and multiple studies have shown no transmissions from HIV-positive patients with undetectable levels to HIV-negative intimate partners. The CDC says in such a case, there is "effectively no risk" of transmission.

Hepatitis B and C affect the liver. According to the FDA, Hepatitis B responses range in severity from mild illness lasting a few weeks to serious long-term illness that can lead to liver disease or cancer. Hepatitis C can result in short-term, acute illness, but most often results in chronic conditions that can lead to cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer, according to the FDA. "Most people with chronic hepatitis do not know they are infected and can live with the disease for decades without having symptoms, or feeling sick," it says.

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