Thousands of patients who received a colonoscopy at VA clinics in Tennessee and Georgia may have been exposed to a risk of infection according to warnings issued last week.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has mailed registered letters to 6,378 patients treated at the Alvin C. York VA Medical Center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, who received a colonoscopy between April 23, 2003 and December 1, 2009.
An additional 1,800 letters were sent to veterans who were treated at an ear, nose and throat clinic at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta, Georgia between January 2008 and November 2008.
Patients treated during these times may have come in contact with other patients’ infectious bodily fluids. Free blood tests are being offered to those affected and no infections have been identified so far.
At the Tennessee VA Medical Center, the infection risk appears to have been caused by a valve in the colonoscopy equipment being connected incorrectly and the tubing attached to the colonoscope may not have been changed properly between patients.
According to the letters sent to patients, the valve-tube connection does not come into contact with the patient during the procedure, but there might still be a potential risk of being exposed to an infection like HIV or hepatitis.
At the Georgia VA Medical Center, problems were found with endoscopic equipment used at the ear, nose and throat clinic. Patients may have been exposed to infection as a result of an improperly disinfected instrument that was used during some procedures.
VA officials have apologized for the issues, which appear to have been caused by human mistake. They have stressed that the risk of infection is very small, but are still recommending blood tests for those who were treated with the equipment.
As a result of the problems, VA Medical Centers throughout the United States are instituting special training sessions.
In January 2008, approximately 50,000 people in the Greater Las Vegas area were notified that they may have been exposed to a risk of HIV or hepatitis infection after it was discovered that two privately owned and operated endoscopy clinics were engaging in unsafe medical practices, such as re-using syringes and single dose vials of anesthesia for multiple patients.
As of October 2007, Nevada health officials had identified 114 cases of potentially fatal hepatitis C among those who received a colonoscopy at either of the two Las Vegas clinics between March 2004 and January 2008.