Epidemiology Cracking Criminal Cases

New Picture (7)Courtney Gladstone (12 Micro) found the discussion of epidemiology very illuminating, and found this article from Scientific American. Criminals should be scared to know that Courtney is on the case! Here is what she has to say about it:

Hearing cases about outbreaks of different viruses or diseases in hospitals or other health care facilities is not completely uncommon, it happens. Most of the time these outbreaks are completely accidental or careless mistakes by health care providers. However, sometimes these cases of outbreaks are criminal. That’s what happened in a small town in New Hampshire, when four cases of Hepatitis C appeared to be linked in some kind of way. That’s where forensic epidemiology comes in and saves the day.

When looking at the strains and genetic codes of the Hepatitis C in these four patients, the genetic codes were almost exactly the same. Jose Montero, an epidemiologist that worked on this case said that this virus mutates so rapidly that it just had to have come from the same person. The first step to solving this problem was figuring out the similarities of all of these people infected. These people had all been to the Exeter Hospital’s Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory, three of them being patients and one of them being employed at this location. After constructing an evolutionary tree of these viruses and sequencing genomes it all went back to the one who was an employee at this lab, David Kwiatkowski, as the beginning piece of this horrible puzzle. Investigators believe that he injected himself with one of the needles and uses it on these patients without any sterilization. Kwiatkowski later plead guilty before the trial could reach an actual jury.

This however isn’t the only happening of this event. Fernando González Candelas of the University of Valencia helped to retrace an even larger outbreak in Spain, where an anesthesiologist was suspected of spreading HCV to hundreds of patients.  This case was similar to the one mentioned previously in that the genetic codes were all similar to the one of the anesthesiologists strain of HCV (Hepatitis C). What’s even more amazing is that with this epidemiology Candelas and his colleagues were also able to estimate when a person became infected to confirm that the infection occurred while that person was under the doctor’s care. The scary thing about this virus is that people can have it and not even know it and spread it without their knowledge, in this case infecting two hundred and seventy-five people.

Forensic epidemiology is extremely important in everyday life. Although it may seem as though in class this is all just information to just get tested on and move on, this kind of information can help aid in stopping criminal acts. Who would have thought things you learn in microbiology could help solve a criminal case!


About ycpmicro

My name is David Singleton, and I am an Associate Professor of Microbiology at York College of Pennsylvania. My main course is BIO230, a course taken by allied-health students at YCP. Views on this site are my own.

Posted on November 22, 2013, in Guest Post, The more you know. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Epidemiology Cracking Criminal Cases.

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