May 3, 2009

Fifth Report Of HIV In VA Hospital

Contaminated medical equipment has been proven the culprit at three Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals for causing five patients to test positive for HIV, and seven more to test positive for hepatitis, the agency said Friday in a statement. 

This latest report brings the total to 33 for those whom have contracted hepatitis.

The spread of the disease came from endoscopic equipment that was not adequately sterilized between patients, exposing thousands of patients to contaminated body fluids of others.  The equipment is commonly used in ear, nose, and throat procedures as well as colonoscopies. 

Former sailors, soldiers, airmen and Marines totaling almost 11,000 have been exposed at the hospitals in Miami, Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and Augusta, Georgia.

To date, 6,687 patients have been notified of their test results, the agency said. 

Katie Roberts, a spokeswoman for the VA, affirmed that the HIV case was found in the Miami hospital.  The agency stated in a news release the positive tests were "not necessarily linked to any endoscopy issues."

A veterans' advocate who was stationed in Korea in the 1960's by the name of Alexander Kovac said, "It's very disturbing that anybody would contract it, of course. I am pleased that the VA has agreed to treat all the veterans regardless of where they may have contracted it."

Evidently, negligence in cleaning practices of endoscopic equipment has been going on for years, the VA said, but was not discovered until as recent as December when officials learned the Murfreesboro facility was not practicing the manufacturer recommended cleaning procedures. In light of this, an internal alert was issued urging hospitals to reevaluate their procedures, revealing the same problem at Augusta in January. 

The VA proclaimed a nationwide safety check on February 9 of all endoscopic equipment.  The equipment consists of a narrow, flexible tube fitted with a fiber-optic device like a telescope or magnifying lens to be inserted into the body. 

Some veterans received warnings in February to get tested, but more were notified in March when the hospital in Miami retracted its previous conclusion that there was no cause for concern. 

Dr. Michael Kussman, the VA's top medical official announced his retirement the day after the first publicized account of HIV infection on April 6.  Kussman is still employed with the VA, but could not be contacted for comment. Spokeswoman Roberts has said there is "no connection whatsoever."

The company Olympus American Inc. of Center Valley, Pa. developed the endoscopic equipment, and has outlined specific recommended cleaning procedures clearly. 

Investigations conducted by the VA and its inspector general have begun, and congressional members of the Veterans Affairs Committee have requested a hearing in late May to discuss how the VA has been dealing with the problem. 

The VA has established a hot line for veterans and their families and additionally posts all information pertaining to this issue on its Web site. 


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