By Jason McLure
LITTLETON, N.H., Dec 4 (Reuters) - A traveling hospital technician accused of spreading hepatitis C to more than 30 former patients nationwide has pleaded not guilty to federal charges of tampering with a consumer product and obtaining controlled substances by fraud.
David Kwiatkowski, 33, was arraigned in federal court Monday in Concord N.H. A trial is scheduled for February but is unlikely to begin until later due to the complexity of the case, his lawyer, Bjorn Lange, said in an interview on Tuesday.
Prosecutors allege that Kwiatkowski, who has hepatitis C, stole syringes of the drug fentanyl intended for patients and injected himself with the anesthetic. He then refilled the syringes with saline solution, leaving the needles for the hospital to re-use on patients.
Hepatitis C can cause serious liver damage and causes more deaths in the U.S. annually than HIV.
Kwiatkowski had most recently worked at Exeter Hospital in southern New Hampshire, where most of the identified victims came into contact with him. However, Kwiatkowski has also been linked to hepatitis cases in Kansas and Maryland, where he formerly worked. Other states where Kwiatkowski worked include Georgia, New York, Pennsylvania and Arizona.
The Justice Department says that Kwiatkowski learned he had the disease in June of 2010 but continued to inject patients with infected needles long afterwards.
If convicted on all 14 counts, Kwiatkowski faces up to 98 years in prison. (Editing by Paul Thomasch; editing by Andrew Hay)