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Veteran Diagnosed with HIV Following Botched Procedure at VA Hospital

Apr 7, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP
VA Hospital

Military Veterans Might Have Been Exposed To Pathogens.

Late last month we wrote that thousands of military veterans might have been exposed to dangerous, life-threatening pathogens from shoddy colonoscopies and endoscopies they underwent as long as five years ago.  Now, the Associated Press (AP) reports one patient has tested positive for HIV following exposure to tainted equipment at a Veterans Administration (VA) medical facility.

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, hepatitis B, and hepatitis B can all lead to death.

According to the AP, the VA previously 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. At least one patient consulted with malpractice attorneys and more are expected. The man, who is in his 50s, tested positive for hepatitis C; he and his lawyers believe a colonoscopy at the Murfreesboro VA two years prior to be the culprit, said WSMV last month. Now, the long-married father must endure protected sex with his wife for the rest of their lives, it noted.

The VA acknowledged in warnings letters to over 10,000 veterans who had received the invasive procedures in the past five years, 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.

VA: These Results Do Not Indicate That There Is Any Relationship Between These Patients.

The Washington Times reported that following its confirmation that the first round of tests found one veteran tested positive for HIV, the VA said,  "These results do not indicate that there is any relationship between these patients' conditions and the endoscopy procedures they underwent…  However, VA is conducting an epidemiologic investigation to look into the possibility of such a relationship."  The VA also admitted that three of its hospitals did not appropriately sterilize colonoscopy equipment on a variety of occasions since 2003:  Murfreesboro, Tennessee (April 2003 to December 2008), Augusta, Georgia (January 2008 to November 2008), and Miami, Florida (May 2004 through March 2009), said the Washington Times, which also noted that 3,174 test results have been received to date.

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.

This January, the VA finished a report on the problem in Murfreesboro, including the cause for equipment switches, incorrect equipment use, and improper sterilization processes, said WSMV; however, the VA insisted that, in the majority of cases “unclear product instructions” from Olympus—the equipment provider—are to blame for the potential spread of deadly infections.

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Need Legal Help Regarding Infection Due to Exposure To Tainted Equipments?

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