After all, American hospitals in the 21st Century couldn’t possibly transmit fatal diseases by reusing syringes or equipment. Right?
Hospitals and clinics in
And now a health clinic in New Hanover county has followed this deadly trend. The New Hanover Community Health Center recently announced that it had sent letters to almost 300 patients who may have been exposed to blood borne illnesses, which can include hepatitis and HIV, due to a machine malfunction. The center recently discovered that a glucose meter used to monitor blood sugar levels in diabetic patients may have malfunctioned so that more than one patient was pricked with the same needle. The patients that were sent warning letters were patients who had been seen since January of this year when this new machine started to be used. It took 6 months for someone to notice that the needles in the meter were not rotating properly? Was this user error instead of a machine malfunction? The patients are being asked to come in for free blood tests. Fortunately, those patients that have been tested to date have tested negatively, but this story is a perfect example of why proper training and proper maintenance of equipment is vitally important.
Not counting hospital outbreaks, the CDC reported earlier this year that 33 outbreaks of hepatitis B and C in settings such as nursing homes and outpatient clinics over the last 10 years put an estimated 60,000 people at risk of bloodborn infections. In those cases, 173 people were diagnosed with hepatitis B and 275 were diagnosed with hepatitis C.
Hepatitis is a virus that comes in six varieties: A, B, C, D, E and
How can something so dangerous yet so preventable happen in modern American health care facilities?
In little Laurinburg, N.C., last year a technician infected seven patients with Hepatitis C during cardiac stress tests conducted at an outpatient clinic. The tests involve injecting a dye into a patient’s vein.
Nearly 100 patients at a cancer clinic inside a
These events not only threaten the lives of the patients that health care facilities are supposed to treat; they cast a cloud of fear over thousands of patients notified that they may have been exposed to a dread disease.
It would be easy to blame the technicians performing the seemingly mundane tasks that often result in hepatitis C transmission. But taking blood, injecting dyes, and administering pain medication are medical procedures. Doctors, hospitals and nursing homes should be held responsible for their safe performance.
*Thanks to Cory Reiss, summer law clerk and 3L at Wake Forest University School of Law, who was the major contributor to this blog post*