A New Jersey surgical center is warning nearly 4,000 patients that they may have been exposed to bloodborne pathogens during procedures earlier this year, due to a lack of proper sterilization and infection controls.
HealthPlus Surgical Center, in Saddle Brook, New Jersey, issued a warning letter (PDF) to thousands of patients this month, instructing them to undergo medical testing to check for potential infectious diseases they may have acquired at the ambulatory surgery center.
The letter came following an investigation by the New Jersey Department of Health, which revealed that the center may have exposed patients to illnesses such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV.
Investigators discovered surgery preparation staff were not following sterilization procedures, and medical instruments using during surgeries were not being properly cleaned between procedures involving different patients.
New Jersey Department of Health officials indicate that a tip was received on September 7, which led to the facility being temporarily closed from September 7 to September 28, 2018.
HealthPlus surgery center’s administrator, Betty McCabe, said the center underwent a third-party cleaning and repairing of all of their instruments, hired new staff, and changed infection control and medication dispensing procedures during the shutdown.
The HealthPlus warning letter instructs all patients who underwent a procedure at the facility between January 1, 2018 and September 7, 2018 to get a blood test. HealthPlus stated that even if patients do not remember feeling sick they should still get tested, as there are medicines, treatments, and other things that people with bloodborne infections can do to protect their health.
HealthPlus officials said the center will pay for patients to receive these blood test at no charge. Patients may schedule an appointment as soon as they receive the warning letter by calling 1-888-507-0578. New Jersey patients will receive testing at Hudson Regional Hospital located at 55 Meadowlands Parkway, Secaucus, New Jersey 07094. Scheduling for out-of-state patients will occur separately.
Although no infections have been reported, symptoms of Hepatitis B and C may not appear for a long time. Hepatitis B is a liver disease that has a range of illnesses that typically last a few weeks but could develop into chronic long term illness and result in liver cancer. Hepatitis C is also a liver disease, however has a much higher rate of becoming a chronic condition resulting in cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer.
HIV is a virus that interferes with the body’s ability to fight infections and progressively causes a failure of the immune system, allowing life-threatening infections and cancers to thrive.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that it takes most people two to eight weeks to develop detectable HIV antibodies after they become infected, with an average of 25 days. It is those antibodies that the tests look for. About three percent of those who become infected take longer than three months to develop the antibodies.