VA confirms local patients infected

Seventeen patients, including six in Augusta, who were treated at Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers with improperly sterilized equipment tested positive for a viral infection, the VA announced Friday evening.

The VA stressed that it is still unclear whether the infections stemmed from getting an endoscopy exam at the VA. A spokeswoman said earlier this week that the situations at the VAs in Augusta; Murfreesboro, Tenn.; and Miami should not be grouped together.

More than 3,100 veterans have been notified of their test results out of the 10,555 sent letters notifying them of the problem, the VA said in a news release.

Of the 17 infections, 11 were hepatitis C, five were hepatitis B and one was HIV. The release didn't list which infections occurred in Augusta.

The risk of hepatitis transmission from an endoscopy exam is "extremely small" and there are no reports of HIV being passed that way, according to the release. Testing is ongoing, and the three VAs have added personnel to "ensure that affected veterans receive prompt testing and appropriate counseling," according to the release.

The problems at Augusta's Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center occurred in the ear, nose and throat clinic between Jan. 2 and Nov. 6 last year. The endoscopy equipment was sterilized with a solution not recommended by the manufacturer, officials said. Problems at Murfreesboro's VA discovered in December led to a systemwide review in March that uncovered the problem in Miami, press secretary Katie Roberts said.

Ms. Roberts has noted that the VA is "widely cited as the first health care institution in the United States to mandate disclosure to patients of all adverse events" and that was reiterated Friday.

"The VA prides itself on being accountable, and we are extremely concerned about this matter, and as a result we have initiated an investigation," said Dr. Michael J. Kussman, the VA's undersecretary for health.

PATIENT HOT LINE

The VA has set up a 24-hour hot line for patients and families at (877) 575-7256.