Old syringes put you at risk, experts warn

CHICAGO — – Patients who got hepatitis from contaminated syringes and medicine vials are joining infection control advocates to warn Americans about a problem they say is more common than people think.

A recent federal report suggests they are right.

It found more than 60,000 people were exposed to hepatitis, and at least 400 people were infected with it in 33 outbreaks linked with blatant safety violations. The report covered the period from 1998 to 2008.

Many involved reuse of syringes: Health workers likely thought they were being safe by discarding the syringes’ used needles and snapping on sterile ones. They were apparently unaware that the plastic barrel part of a syringe can become contaminated, too. Reusing it even with a fresh needle also can contaminate the medicine vial.

Army officials announced Thursday they are investigating evidence that a similar unsanitary practice, reuse of insulin-injecting devices, may have occurred at an Army hospital in Texas. More than 2,100 diabetic patients treated at William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso may be at risk for hepatitis or HIV, although no cases have been confirmed.

Authorities believe many infections from such incidents go unreported. The lack of care and cleanliness that has been uncovered in medical clinics and doctors’ offices is disturbing. The most publicized cases in recent years occurred in Nevada, Nebraska and New York; one of the most recent outbreaks was in Illinois.

But they have happened in other states and in hospitals, too. The federal report published last month says the cases it highlights “probably represent a much wider problem.”

Some hygiene lapses among medical workers have received more attention, including inadequate hand-washing. But researcher Joseph Perz of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that syringe reuse “is something that’s obviously wrong.”

“It really represents a breakdown in very basic patient safety. There really is a sense of outrage among many providers and others working in this area when they hear about some of these outbreaks and some of the practices,” Perz said. He co-authored the report, which appeared in the Jan. 6 edition of Annals of Internal Medicine.

Perz blamed the problem on ignorance and lack of oversight.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: