A New York hospital on Long Island is warning more than 4,000 patients about a potential risk of infection after they received insulin from insulin pens that may have been re-used on multiple patients, potentially exposing the individuals to a risk of HIV, hepatitis or other blood borne diseases.
South Nassau Communities Hospital released a statement on March 11, indicating that the patients may have been exposed after a nurse was overheard saying that “reusing the insulin pens from the insulin pen reservoir on multiple patients was ok to do so”, according to a report by Newsday.
Although no reports have indicated that patients were infected and the hospital indicates that the possibility of infections spreading is extremely low, letters have been sent to all individuals who are believed to have been exposed to the reused insulin pens.
According to a statement provided to Newsday by the hospital’s spokesman Daniel Becker, no one was observed physically reusing an insulin pen, but once the report was made to the New York State Department of Health precautionary measures were implemented.
The hospital has indicated that patients receiving letters should contact South Nassau Communities Hospital at 516-208-0029 to schedule free blood testing. All warning letters were sent to patients immediately and should reach all potentially infected patients by March 17.
Insulin pens are prefilled syringes used to administer insulin to a single patient. The risk of reusing an insulin pen is that when the insulin is injected there is a possibility for the patients’ blood to backflow into the pen cartridge. Reusing an insulin pen on another patient can easily transfer any blood-borne infections.
The hospital reports that it has received only 200 phone calls from patients scheduling blood tests so far, out of the 4,247 letters to potentially affected people. South Nassau’s spokesman Daniel Becker indicates that the hospital has implemented a wide policy that bans the use of insulin pens and permits only the use of single-patient-use vials to administer prescribed insulin treatments to patients.
Hospitals have issued a number of warnings regarding insulin pens were reused in recent years, including a warning by the nearby Nassau University Medical Center in New York, which notified about 840 patients that nurses may have reused insulin pens on multiple patients in 2008.
The FDA followed up the hospital’s warning issuing a nationwide alert for health care workers that indicates insulin pens are meant for use on a single patient only and should never be reused to prevent contamination.
Additionally in 2013, the VA hospital system issued an alert system wide following reports of insulin pen misuse at its Buffalo hospital. Of the 395 patients that were potentially infected from reuse of insulin needles, 12 were newly found to be infected with hepatitis B and six with hepatitis C.