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Vets Endangered by Improperly Sterilized Equipment

Mar 27, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP
Medical Equipments

Dangers of Improperly Sterilized Equipment.

Even though the Veterans Administration  (VA) isn't saying much, it seems as if thousands of military veterans might have been exposed to dangerous, life-threatening pathogens from colonoscopies and endoscopies they underwent as long as five years ago.  The Associated Press (AP) reports that military veterans in the southern United States are awaiting word about potential and serious infections.

WSMV reports that no less than 10 patients have tested positive for hepatitis B or C or HIV.  At least one man has 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 Veterans Administration two years prior to be the culprit, said WSMV.  Now, the long-married father must endure protected sex with his wife for the rest of their lives, it noted.

The VA won’t say exactly what happened, but did acknowledge in warnings to 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.

The VA admitted this week that the water tubes and reservoirs it used in colonoscopies and endoscopies were rinsed—not disinfected—between procedures.  This practice could expose subsequent patients to contamination, said the Miami Herald.  In south Florida alone, over 3,000 veterans underwent medical procedures since 2004 in which the improper processes were followed, said the Miami Herald; reported that up to 9,000 patients may have been contaminated.  WSMV reported 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.

Incorrect Equipment Use And Improper Sterilization Processes.

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—seven out of 10 factors cited—the problem was with the equipment manufacturer, Olympus.  According to WSMV, the VA said that "unclear product instructions" from Olympus are to blame for the potential spread of deadly infections.

Now, the government has become involved. "We owe these folks the highest obligation because they have protected our country; we should protect them," said U.S. Representative Jim Cooper (Democrat-Nashville).  "So Congress needs to do whatever it takes to make sure all of our veterans are safe," He told  WSMV. reported that Senator John F. Kerry  (D-Mass) asked the VA’s inspector general to initiate an inspection of sanitation procedures at VA hospitals, saying in a statement that, “The Veterans Administration has inherited a tragic situation, and a full review is needed so we can find out how this happened, correct the situation, and make sure it never happens again….  The Obama Administration has already …  taken responsibility.”

The Miami Herald reported that VA hotlines and clinics in Florida received thousands of calls and hundreds of visits from worried veterans looking to schedule testing following the VA’s announcement earlier this week.

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