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State gives 2nd chance to nurse who started Hep C outbreak

The Tampa Bay nurse who infected at least seven people with an incurable disease through sloppiness will be allowed to keep treating Florida patients – assuming she can find a job.

The Board of Nursing decided that Brandy Elizabeth Medeiros, who was identified as the source of a 2009 hepatitis C outbreak, can resume working as long as she informs prospective employers that her license is on probation.

Medeiros was asked to pay fines and fees totaling more than $8,000 over eight years. She’ll also have to take some classes, including one called “The ABC’s of Hepatitis.”

The hepatitis C virus, transmitted by exposure to infected blood, causes a chronic condition that can be fatal without a liver transplant.

Those who contracted the disease were patients of Wellness Works, a Brandon alternative health clinic. Medeiros was administering chelation therapy, a controversial blood-cleansing treatment, when she re-used syringes and single-use medicine vials, public health officials said.

Physician Carol Roberts, the owner of Wellness Works, was not disciplined by the Board of Medicine. Department of Health officials said she alerted them to the problem and cooperated with the outbreak investigation.

DOH issued an emergency suspension of Medeiros’ license last May on the grounds that allowing her to continue practicing presented “an immediate serious danger to the health, safety or welfare of the public.”

In December, DOH and Medeiros reached the settlement agreement that led to her probation, which is to last until at least 2015. In the agreement, Medeiros neither admitted nor denied wrongdoing.

Medeiros did not respond to a message sent to her through a Facebook page that appeared to be hers; after the message was sent, the page was taken down.

Meanwhile, a malpractice lawsuit has been filed in Hillsborough Circuit Court against Roberts and Wellness Works by Grace Brant, a patient who says in court papers that she contracted Hepatitis C through intravenous treatments there.

Medeiros is not named in the suit, but the allegations – including re-use of needles and vials – are identical to those that led to the suspension of her license.

The suit, filed in November, says that Roberts allowed unsanitary practices at Wellness Works and that the treatments Brant received were medically worthless. The suit does not mention chelation specifically.

Roberts filed a response denying that she and Brant had a doctor-patient relationship (Roberts is not the only doctor at Wellness Works.)

Although chelation therapy is popular in alternative medicine as a treatment for a variety of symptoms, mainstream medicine regards it as worthless, and perhaps dangerous, for treatment of anything but acute heavy metal poisoning.

In the procedure, chemicals are injected into the bloodstream that bind to metals, causing them to be excreted.

Until 1980, the state medical board disciplined doctors who used chelation therapy for purposes other than the one for which it had been found helpful in scientific studies. But that year, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that minority views in medicine were to be tolerated as long as patients were not defrauded or harmed.

Roberts, who hosted a Tampa radio program called “Alternative Health” before the outbreak, told Health News Florida last year that she believes everyone has some amount of metal in their blood and that it can cause symptoms ranging from general malaise to serious illness. Roberts has said she believes “everyone should be chelated.”