VA announces positive tests of viral infection

Friday, April 3, 2009 7:55 PM
Last updated 8:00 PM
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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, however, that it is still unclear whether the infections stemmed from getting an endoscopy exam at the VA. And a spokeswoman stressed earlier this week that the situations at the VA in Augusta, in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and in Miami, should not be grouped together.

More than 3,100 veterans have been notified of their test results, out of the 10,555 who were sent letters notifying them of the problem, the VA said in a news release. Of those 17 infections, 11 were for hepatitis C, five were hepatitis B and one was for HIV. Outside of the six in Augusta, the rest of the infections were from patients at the Murfreesboro VA. The release did not list which particular viral infections occurred in Augusta.

The risk of hepatitis transmission from an endoscopy exam is “extremely small” and there are no reports of HIV ever being passed that way, according to the release. Testing is ongoing and the Augusta, Murfreesboro and Miami VA have added personnel to “ensure that affected Veterans receive prompt testing and appropriate counseling,” according to the release. There is also an outreach effort to homeless veterans or those whose letters might have been returned as undeliverable.

The problems at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta occurred in the Ear, Nose and Throat clinic between Jan. 2 and Nov. 6 last year. While the endoscopy equipment was being sterilized, it was with a solution that was not the one recommended by the manufacturer, officials said. Problems at the Murfreesboro VA discovered in December led to a patient safety alert and a system-wide review in March that uncovered the problem in Miami, press secretary Katie Roberts said.

However, “I would hesitate to group any of them together,” she said. “Each facility, each situation, is unique.”

In an earlier statement, Ms. Roberts 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 that could cause harm” and that commitment 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 VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. Michael J. Kussman. “Additionally, we are making sure to take corrective measures to ensure Veterans have the information and the care necessary to deal with this unacceptable development.”

The VA has set up a hotline for patients and families who want more information at 1-877-575-7256. The hotline is available 24/7.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213

or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.


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