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Over 700 people exposed to HIV, hepatitis at VA hospital that reused insulin pens

Wednesday, February 06, 2013 by: Jonathan Benson, staff writer
Tags: HIV, insulin pens, VA hospital

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(NaturalNews) A major procedural botch at a Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital in Western New York may have been responsible for exposing at least 700 diabetic patients to hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and even HIV. As reported by the Associated Press (AP), the Veterans Affairs Western New York Healthcare System was recently exposed for having reused individual insulin pens on multiple patients throughout the course of several years, which put these patients at serious risk of infection.

It is the institutionalized equivalent of needle-sharing, and a highly irresponsible practice that workers at the VA hospital were apparently unaware could be dangerous. An inspection conducted in November 2012 found unlabeled insulin pens on medication carts throughout the hospital, which upon further investigation, was revealed to be a routine practice at the facility. And after reviewing hospital records, authorities discovered that insulin pens were being recycled and reused by hospital staff since they first arrived at the facility back in October 2010.

"Reuse of insulin pens for more than one patient essentially is akin to syringe reuse," explained Dr. Melissa Schaefer from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to AP about the issue. "You can get back flow of blood into that syringe or cartridge that contains the insulin and then you potentially expose other patients. And changing the needle wouldn't make it safe for multi-patient use."

There is a chance that nurses and hospital staff were simply ignorant about the proper use of insulin pens, having fallaciously assumed that changing the needles on the pens was enough to prevent contamination and the potential spread of infection. But it is also possible that laziness and negligence were to blame, and that the problem would have continued had it not been for the recent inspection.

"Is this situation isolated to the VA Medical Center in Buffalo or is it reflective of a systemic problem in patient labeling that has endangered veterans throughout the VA healthcare system?" asked Rep. Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.) in a letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary Shinseki. Rep. Shinseki and other members of a regional congressional delegation are currently seeking an investigation to get to the bottom of the issue.

Similarly, back in 2010, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) fined a veterans hospital in Philadelphia $227,500 for committing an "unprecedented number" of radiation errors in treating prostate cancer patients. As reported by The New York Times (NYT), the number of radiation errors made at the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center was so large that an overwhelming majority of prostate cancer patients at the hospital was determined to have been improperly treated during a six-year investigatory period from 2002 to 2008.

Sources for this article include:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/18/health/policy/18radiation.html

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