FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) _ State officials are investigating an outbreak of highly contagious hepatitis B in a dermatologist's practice that has infected more than 200 former patients.

The outbreak is believed to have been caused by faulty sterilization procedures that let the virus pass among patients, said David Adams, spokesman for the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services.

''Our belief now is that a person came into the office with the virus, and the virus was on some equipment that allowed it to be passed on to someone else,'' Adams said Friday. ''We're investigating it as a patient-to-patient infection.''

The dermatologist, identified as Dr. Robert Boudreau, has since closed the practice and has declined repeated requests for comment.

Since last month, 213 of 2,331 former patients have tested positive for the virus, Adams said. Most have not become sick because the body quickly builds up antibodies.

Symptoms include vomiting, weakness, joint aches, yellowing of the skin and death in rare cases.