Several HIV Cases Linked to One VA ClinicApr 20, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP Shoddy colonoscopies and endoscopies have exposed thousands of military veterans to dangerous, life-threatening pathogens. Earlier this month, the Associated Press (AP) reported that one patient tested positive for HIV following exposure to tainted equipment at a Veterans Administration (VA) medical facility. Now, the AP is reporting that a total of three patients have tested positive for HIV, one each from VA facilities in Murfreesboro, Tennessee; Augusta, Georgia; and Miami, Florida.
The shoddy tests were conducted as far back as five years ago and have prompted testing of over 10,000 veterans, said the AP. To date, said the AP over 5,400 patients have been notified of their follow-up test results.
HIV and hepatitis B and C are spread by contact with infected body fluids, especially blood. HIV—the human immunodeficiency virus—is the virus that causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome); AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection. Hepatitis B and C are liver diseases that can lead to cirrhosis or cancer of the liver. Vaccines exist only for hepatitis B. HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B and C can all be fatal.
Testing is required because patients were treated with equipment that was not appropriately sterilized, thus exposing them to the bodily fluids of other patients, noted the AP. The VA acknowledged in its warnings letters to the over 10,000 veterans who received the invasive procedures that they were potentially exposed to other patients’ bodily fluids and should be tested for diseases such as hepatitis and HIV, said the AP in an earlier report. Also, the VA admitted in late March that water tubes and reservoirs it used in colonoscopies and endoscopies were rinsed—not disinfected—between procedures, which could expose subsequent patients to contamination.
According to a prior AP piece, the VA stated that hepatitis B and C were diagnosed in 16 patients, but argued that it would be impossible to determine if contamination occurred at VA facilities. Since, the VA has confirmed, said the AP, that there have been six positive results for hepatitis B and 19 for hepatitis C at the three VA clinics. At least one patient consulted with malpractice attorneys and more are expected.
The VA admits that it remains unclear if veterans who underwent procedures with the same type of equipment at the 150 other VA hospitals might also be facing similar contamination issues, said the AP. Apparently, a nationwide safety training campaign took place and ended March 14 and an equipment mistake was corrected by the time campaign ended said the AP, citing a VA spokeswoman.
According to a VA statement, reported the AP, the number of so-called "potentially affected" patients totals 10,797, including, it said, 6,387 who underwent colonoscopies at Murfreesboro, 3,341 who underwent colonoscopies at Miami, and another 1,069 who were treated at Augusta’s ear, nose, and throat clinic.
In an earlier Washington Times article, the VA admitted that the three hospitals did not appropriately sterilize colonoscopy equipment on a variety of occasions since 2003. Also, WSMV said in an earlier report that, late last year the VA found a wrong tubing valve might have been used during procedures as far back as April 2003, which could have resulted in body fluid transmission between patients.