Augusta exam may have exposed veterans to infection

About 1,200 veterans may have been exposed to infection after they were treated with improperly sterilized equipment at the Augusta Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centers, the health system announced today.

But Acting Chief of Staff John W. Brice stressed that the risk of actually being infected was “incredibly small.”

Letters to those affected will be going out today and Tuesday and will include how to make an appointment to come in for a free screening. The letters are going to those who received an endoscopy in the ear, nose and throat clinic at the VA between Jan. 2, 2008, and Nov. 6, 2008.

The endoscopy equipment was sterilized with a disinfecting solution but it was not the solution recommended by the equipment manufacturer, Dr. Brice said.

“They were disinfecting the scopes, just not using the approved agent, he said. “So we believe that the risk of any transmission of disease to be incredibly small but it’s our policy to be transparent on these things. And any time there’s any conceivable adverse outcome, we want to be open with it and let everyone know.”

The problem was discovered in November and the VA launched an investigation, including consulting with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to determine whether veterans were actually at risk, Dr. Brice said.

“It took a period of time for us to get the truth together,” he said.

Veterans will be screened for infections such as HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. It applies only to those who received the procedure in the ENT clinic; veterans who received an endoscopy in other parts of the health system are not at risk, Dr. Brice said.

The Augusta VA has set up a nurse communication center to help speed up appointments and answer questions. Those affected can call (706) 731-7229 or 1-888-483-9674 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. After hours, call 1-800-836-5561.

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