Accidental HIV, Hepatitis Exposure Possible for More Than 700 Buffalo VA Hospital Patients

Potentially contaminated insulin injection pens may have exposed more than 700 patients at a Buffalo, New York, Veterans Administration (VA) hospital to HIV, and hepatitis B or hepatitis C infections. The reusable insulin pens may have been inappropriately used on multiple patients.

Between October 2010 and November 2012, at the Buffalo Veterans Administration Center, insulin pens that should have been designated for only one patient may have accidentally been used for others, exposing patients to HIV or to the hepatitis B or C viruses, according to the Associated Press (AP). A routine pharmacy inspection on November 1, 2012 uncovered the problem. The insulin pen, an injection device, can be either disposable or reusable. The reusable pens should not be used to inject more than one person, even with a fresh needle. The Buffalo inspection revealed that some of the pens were not labeled for individual patients, and it’s possible they were used for more than one patient.

According to a VA spokesperson, the needle on each pen was always changed but contamination could have occurred if bodily fluids had flowed back into the pen during an injection. HIV and hepatitis B and C are blood borne pathogens. Diabetic patients can be exposed to these viruses through contaminated injection equipment. While VA officials maintain that the risk of infection is very small, the VA is providing free blood tests to anyone who might have been exposed, the AP reports. The hospital has taken steps to ensure that, going forward, the insulin pens are handled according to pharmaceutical guidelines.

The VA reported the possible exposure to members of Congress from western New York. Chris Collins, Republican representative from New York’s 27th congressional district, has spoken to the Department of Veterans Affairs about the situation and safeguards against future infection risks.

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