VA Clinic Colonoscopy Problems Result in Four Positive HIV Tests

The latest figures released by the Department of Veterans Affairs indicate that at least four patients treated at VA Clinics in Florida, Tennessee and Georgia have tested positive for HIV after being exposed to non-sterile equipment. Another 20 veterans have tested positive for Hepatitis C and thousands of other patients treated at the clinics have been warned to obtain blood tests.

The VA Clinic problems have been linked to the use of contaminated endoscopic equipment used for colonoscopy tests and ear, nose and throat exams.

Human error and improper training has been blamed for equipment not being sterilized between patients and other improper procedures that potentially exposed veterans treated to bodily fluids of other patients.

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The colonoscopy contamination problems were first discovered in December 2008, at the Alvin C. York Medical Center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. A subsequent review of procedures at all VA Clinics led to the identification of additional issues at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta, Georgia, and the Miami Veterans Affairs Healthcare System in Florida.

The potential exposures could have occurred during treatments as far back as April 2003 at the Tennessee GI Clinic, May 2004 at the Miami GI Clinic and January 2008 at the Augusta ENT Clinic.

Since February 2009, the Department of Veterans Affairs has warned nearly 11,000 potentially affected patients, requesting that they obtain blood tests. So far, test results have been received back on at least 6,531 veterans.

As of April 24, 2009, the VA confirms that four cases of HIV have been found among those exposed, including two veterans treated in Miami, one in Tennessee and one in Georgia. Another 20 patients have been diagnosed with Hepatitis C (8 from Tennessee, 7 from Miami and 5 from Augusta) and 6 patients have been diagnosed with the less severe Hepatitis B (4 from Tennessee, 2 from Georgia and none from Miami).

Although these cases have been identified among those that may have been exposed, the VA indicates that they are not necessarily linked to the VA clinic endoscopy problems and they are continuing to evaluate the cases.

Over 100 VA personnel at the three hospitals have been assigned to make sure that potentially affected veterans receive prompt testing and counseling.

Congressional members of the Veterans Affairs Committee have requested a hearing in late May 2009 to discuss the VA’s handling of the problems.

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