published Monday, January 14th, 2013

Possible HIV exposure at Buffalo VA hospital

BUFFALO, N.Y. — More than 700 patients at the Buffalo Veterans Administration Center may have been exposed to HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C because of accidental reuse of insulin pens, according to a hospital statement and published reports.

Authorities told The Buffalo News there is a “very small risk” for the diabetic patients who may have been exposed to the reused insulin pens between Oct. 19, 2010 and November 2012. The VA memo obtained by the News said the problem was discovered by a routine pharmacy inspection last Nov. 1. The News first published the report on its website Friday.

The VA also notified western New York members of Congress of the possible exposure.

In a statement to The Associated Press, VA spokeswoman Evangeline Conley said the hospital “recently discovered that in some cases, insulin pens were not labeled for individual patients.” She added that “although the pen needles were always changed, an insulin pen may have been used on more than one patient.”

Conley said that once this was discovered the hospital took “immediate action” to ensure the insulin pens were being used according to pharmaceutical guidelines.

Insulin pens used by diabetics to inject insulin can be disposable or reusable with replaceable needles and cartridges. But according to the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, even reusable pens should not be used on more than one patient.

After seeing the VA’s memo, Rep. Chris Collins, a Republican who represents the Buffalo area, said he spoke with Dr. Robert A. Petzel, undersecretary for health at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“His thought was that it’s a very, very low chance of passing infection,” Collins said. “But it’s not out of the realm of possibility, and that’s why they’re testing everyone,” Collins told the News.

Collins said that even with a fresh needle, contamination could have occurred if bodily fluid flowed back into the insulin pens.

The VA said it is offering free blood tests to rule out any infections.

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