HIV case linked to clinic in Augusta

Testing among veterans exposed to improperly sterilized equipment at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center revealed more potential infections, including an unconfirmed case of HIV.

The Department of Veterans Affairs posted an update Friday on the test results of patients exposed to endoscopic equipment that was cleaned with the wrong solution. In Augusta, 1,069 patients treated in the Ear, Nose and Throat clinic were affected between January and November 2008.

At VA hospitals in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and in Miami, the problem stretched back five years and involves nearly 10,000 patients.

The VA said all of those potentially exposed in Augusta have been notified and all but 81 have responded, with 13 declining testing. The results are back on 783 patients in Augusta, though the VA said it could not be certain of the number tested because some patients might have been tested at other clinics. Of those, 671 have been notified of the results.

In what the VA is calling "unverified positive tests," there have been one case of hepatitis B, one case of HIV and five cases of hepatitis C among those tested in Augusta. At all three clinics, the testing has turned up three cases of HIV, 19 cases of hepatitis C and six cases of hepatitis B. Earlier this month, the VA had reported 17 unconfirmed infections, including one case of HIV, but they were not broken down by location.

"These are not necessarily linked to any endoscopy issues and the evaluation continues," the VA said. "We are continuing to notify individuals whose letters have been returned as undeliverable, and working with homeless coordinators to reach veterans with no known home address."

The VA has said it doesn't know whether veterans treated with the same kind of equipment at its other 150 hospitals were exposed to the same mistake.

All three sites used endoscopic equipment made by Olympus American Inc., which said it is helping the VA address problems with "inadvertently neglecting to appropriately reprocess a specific auxiliary water tube."

Charles Rollins, 62, who served three tours in Vietnam with the Navy from 1966-69, said the news concerns him because he's used the Augusta clinic several times.

"That's terrible," he said by phone from an American Legion post in Augusta.

Associated Press reports were used in this article.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Veterans with questions or concerns can contact the VA through the Special Care Call center at (877) 575-7256 or by e-mail at opiawebcom@va.gov.