Thousands to be tested for hepatitis C in New Hampshire

Thousands to be tested for hepatitis C in New Hampshire

BOSTON (Reuters) – Thousands of former patients at a New Hampshire hospital have been given permission to be tested to discover whether they were infected with the hepatitis C virus by a medical technician charged with stealing drugs and contaminating needles.

The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services on Friday announced plans for testing about 3,300 former patients of Exeter Hospital who may have been infected.

Any patient treated in the hospital’s main operating rooms or intensive care unit between April 1, 2011 and May 25, 2012 may be at risk of infection.

David Matthew Kwiatkowski, a carrier of hepatitis C and an itinerant medical technician who worked at hospitals in several states, was charged with federal drug crimes in July for his actions in New Hampshire.

Authorities said the Michigan native stole syringes filled with the painkiller Fentanyl and injected himself with them. He then refilled the needles with saline, leaving the syringes for the hospital to re-use on patients.

Kwiatkowski worked in a lab at Exeter Hospital for more than a year. His charges carry sentences of up to 24 years in prison.

Tests scheduled for late July were delayed by concerns over the safety, health and privacy of those being tested. More than half the patients were 50 years or older

“It did take a little bit longer than we had hoped to iron out how this new testing plan would work and we do appreciate everyone’s patience in this process,” DHHS commissioner Nicholas Toumpas said in a statement.

Hepatitis C is caused by a virus that attacks the liver, and is considered among the most serious hepatitis viruses. It is passed through contact with contaminated blood, often through shared needles. It can lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer.

Kwiatkowski is believed to have had hepatitis C since at least June 2010. Thirty cases of the same strain have been confirmed among patients from the New Hampshire hospital.

Before arriving in New Hampshire, Kwiatkowski worked as a radiology technician and in cardiac labs in at least 10 hospitals in Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Kansas, Georgia and Arizona.

(Reporting by Joseph O’Leary; Editing by Ros Krasny and Eric Walsh)

Facebook Monitors Your Posts and Chats To Catch Sexual Predators

Facebook Monitors Your Posts and Chats To Catch Sexual Predators

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Ever wonder if Facebook is reading your posts? Well, it is—or, its computers are, at least. And if you say the wrong thing, you could be locked up.

That’s the takeaway from a recent Reuters article, which recounted a case in which Facebook’s software detected a man in his thirties allegedly trying to set up a meeting with a 13-year-old Florida girl for sex. From Reuters:

Facebook’s extensive but little-discussed technology for scanning postings and chats for criminal activity automatically flagged the conversation for employees, who read it and quickly called police.

Officers took control of the teenager’s computer and arrested the man the next day, said Special Agent Supervisor Jeffrey Duncan of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The alleged predator has pleaded not guilty to multiple charges of soliciting a minor.

Facebook’s chief security officer told Reuters that the company’s monitoring software uses actual chats that led to sexual assaults to predict when another might occur. This is eerily similar to the hypothetical software I discussed in an article last month on whether police could arrest people based on suspicious-looking Google searches. I noted in the piece that while the idea might sound far-fetched, the technology already exists, and it might even be legal.

In Facebook’s case, the scanning hasn’t stirred outrage—probably because it seems to be focused on catching sexual predators. There are two reasons why online predators make sense as an initial target for automatic-monitoring algorithms. First, soliciting sex with a minor on the Internet is a crime in itself, not just a prelude to a crime (like, say, searching Google for ways to murder someone in their sleep). And second, sexual predators are unlikely to elicit much sympathy, so the public is more likely to tolerate intrusive means of nabbing them. Facebook is fighting creepy with creepy.

The key to the technology’s success—from a public-opinion standpoint, and possibly from a legal standpoint—is avoiding false positives. Arresting an innocent person based on a Facebook chat would surely cause controversy. So according to the Reuters piece, Facebook dials down the algorithm’s sensitivity, to minimize the chances of this happening.

It seems clear that this technology has the potential to do some good. But that shouldn’t blind us to the fact that it represents a further erosion of our online privacy, one more serious than selling our personal information to advertisers.