Patients Exposed to Hepatitis, HIV After Unsafe Injection Practices

Nearly 70 people have been recommended to receive testing for hepatitis B and C and HIV after they received flu shots from syringes that had been reused.

Nearly 70 people have been recommended to receive testing for hepatitis B and C and HIV after they received flu shots from syringes that had been reused.

The New Jersey Department of Health announced that an employee flu vaccine clinic at Otsuka Pharmaceuticals, the hired nurse contractor had reused syringes to give the flu shot to 67 employees. One of 2 strategies recommended by the CDC to businesses and employers is to host a flu vaccination clinic in the workplace. Offering this service to employees is a way to minimize absenteeism in the workplace.

“We take full responsibility for this incident and are working diligently with the New Jersey Department of Health to resolve this matter as swiftly as possible,” Alan Kohll, president of TotalWellness, the agency that hired the nurse, said in a statement, The Washington Post reported. “Our sincerest apologies go out to all those affected by this terrible event.”

NBC10 reported that in addition to reusing syringes, the nurse has been accused of giving patients less than the recommended dose of the flu shot. The nurse, identified as Mary Roback, according to NJ.com, has had her license temporarily suspended by the NJ State Board of Nursing.

The state Department of Health is unsure how many syringes—not needles—were reused, but a spokeswoman said that risk of transmission of hepatitis B and C, and HIV are low. However, the potentially exposed patients have been contact by phone, e-mail, and letter and told they should be tested.

Exposure to infectious diseases through unsafe healthcare practices isn’t entirely uncommon, according to data from the One & Only Campaign, led by the CDC and the Safe Injection Practices Coalition. Since 2001, more than 150,000 patients in the US have potentially been exposed to hepatitis B and C, and HIV, mostly due to healthcare providers reusing syringes. This unsafe practice results in contamination of medication vials or containers.

A 2009 article published by CDC researchers in the Annals of Internal Medicine found 33 hepatitis outbreaks, for a total of 448 infected individuals, in the 10-year period ending in 2008 were a result of deficient healthcare practices. Another 22 outbreaks were discovered from 2008 to 2014, according to HealthDay. Most of the infections and exposures were a result of unsafe injection practices.

“Difficult to detect and investigate, these recognized outbreaks indicate a wider and growing problem as health care is increasingly provided in outpatient settings in which infection control training and oversight may be inadequate,” the authors wrote.

Read about previous outbreak that resulted in infections on the next page.

Previous Outbreaks that Resulted in Infections

In March 2015, a doctor was ordered to close his office in Santa Barbara, California, after inspectors found unsafe practices that put patients at risk. All patients who had visited the office of Allen Thomashefsky, MD, were recommended to get tested for hepatitis C and B, and HIV, and at least 5 patients tested positive for hepatitis C after receiving injections from Dr Thomashefsky’s practice, the LA Times reported.

In March 2015, USA Today reported that 7 people were hospitalized with drug-resistant MRSA infections with alarming similarities. State health officials discovered all 7 patients had received joint injections at the same orthopedic clinic, which had injected multiple patients with medication from a one-time use vial. Shortly after, 3 patients in Arizona were hospitalized with MRSA infections after receiving injections at a pain clinic that misused a single-dose vial.

In March 2013, 14 patients sued a hospital in Elmira, New York, after they were exposed to unsafe injection practices, reported FierceHealthcare. A nurse at Corning Hospital reportedly reused saline syringes on 236 patients between October 15, 2012, and January 29, 2013. Just 2 months earlier, another New York hospital announced that nearly 2000 patients may have received an injection from another patient’s insulin pen, with 3 patients claiming they contracted hepatitis from the injection.

In 2002, in Fremont, Nebraska, 99 people were infected with hepatitis C. One of those patients was Evelyn McKnight, AuD, who had been battling breast cancer when she found out she had been infected with the disease as a result of nurses, under the direction of the oncologist, reusing syringes. She has since co-founded HONOReform (Hepatitis Outbreaks’ National Organization for Reform), a patient advocacy organization working to save lives by ensuring injection safety practices are followed.