Tulane Medical Center Warns Patients of Hepatitis, HIV Threat

About 360 patients who visited the Tulane Medical Center for colonoscopies, sigmoidoscopies, and upper-endoscopies late last year received notifications that the Center did not properly sanitize the gastrointestinal scoping equipment, potentially exposing them to blood borne diseases such as <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/hepatitis">hepatitis B and C and HIV, said NOLA.

The letter, sent by Dr. Robert Lynch, the Center’s CEO, was dated January 3rd and told patients that infection risk was considered “minimal to nonexistent” and that they were “invited” to obtain a free screening for these diseases. According to Lynch, an error occurred in one of the five steps used in its sanitizing protocol and the testing is simply a way in which “to reassure patients whose procedures were impacted,” quoted NOLA.

Despite the attempt to calm patients, at least one has moved forward with a lawsuit. The action, filed by a patient identified as “John Doe,” seeks class action status and accuses the Center of negligence, alleging a long list of issues including “mental anguish” and “loss of enjoyment of life.” “John Doe’s” wife is also part of the negligence lawsuit and alleges she could potentially contract a blood borne disease from contact with her husband, said NOLA.

Both were tested and tests indicate that, to date, neither have been infected; however, additional testing is scheduled due to some blood borne virus incubation periods, said NOLA. Tulane Medical Center is jointly owned by Health Care Corporation of America and Tulane University.

HIV and hepatitis B and C are spread by contact with infected body fluids. Vaccines exist only for hepatitis B. HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B and C can all be fatal.

HIV—the human immunodeficiency virus—is the virus that causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome); AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection. Hepatitis B and C are liver diseases that can lead to cirrhosis or cancer of the liver. Hepatitis B is a dangerous liver infection that can be transmitted through blood and blood products. Of those who develop hepatitis B, 10 percent develop a chronic form of the disease that can lead to liver damage.

Lynch’s letter and follow-up written statement, which was released yesterday, say that routine maintenance indicated that a step in the Center’s disinfection processes for endoscopes and bronchoscopes was not conducted at appropriate temperatures, explained NOLA. The disinfection error took place from October 1st to December 1st. “Once this was discovered, it was remediated immediately,” wrote Lynch, who also said that the hospital contacted infection control experts such as the Ratard unit at the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, quoted NOLA.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said endoscopic infection occurs in 1 in 1.8 million procedures; low odds, but enough to make the equipment the likeliest source of outbreaks linked to healthcare facilities, said NOLA.

Ten years ago, the Center exposed the rare, incurable brain disorder Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease to a number of patients because those patients all underwent surgical procedures in which the same instruments were used that were used on someone with the disease. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which is similar in pathology, said NOLA, to mad cow disease, was resistant to the sterilizing procedures in place at the time. The condition was diagnosed after “an initial” Tulane surgery patient died. The hospital settled a negligence claim by another exposed patient, said NOLA.

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