By Evelyn McKnight
Even as health care workers and patients are becoming more informed on the absolute necessity of always using safe injection practices, incidents involving unsafe injection practices continue to occur in the United States.
More than 700 patients admitted to the Buffalo VA Medical Center over a two-year period recently received a notification letter similar to one I received more than 10 years ago. “Dear Sir or Madam … you may have been exposed to hepatitis B, hepatitis C or HIV while receiving health care.”
What happened in Buffalo? The needles were changed on the insulin pens that were being used on these patients. But the insulin pen itself was reused, which, according to experts, is similar to reusing a syringe.
Let’s hope and pray that the men and women at the Buffalo veterans hospital have not been infected.
They are not alone. Over the last 12 years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 48 separate incidents in which reuse of medical equipment, including, in many of these outbreaks, reuse of the same syringe on multiple patients, was the direct source of widespread infections of blood-borne pathogens.
I was one of 99 people in Fremont, Neb., who was infected with hepatitis C in 2002. At the time, I was fighting breast cancer, going in to my local clinic with my husband, Tom, a family physician, at my side, for chemotherapy.
I was very ill. I didn’t notice the unsafe conditions and practices in this clinic. Saline bags were being improperly used, and syringes were being used on multiple patients. According to a nationally recognized hepatologist who studied this outbreak, six fellow patients died because of the infection of hepatitis C they received.
Despite the passage of time, this outbreak has not been forgotten. Every time our organization responds to an outbreak – or works at the federal or state level to help create change – I think of the suffering of the Nebraska cohort. And of other victims I have met and worked beside along the way.
I urge all health care workers to take advantage of the extraordinary resources that are available. Led by the Centers for Disease Control, our colleagues on the Safe Injection Practices Coalition launched the One & Only Campaign (“One Needle, One Syringe, Only One Time”).
Because health care workers continue to misuse the insulin pen, we developed materials in 2012 designed to re-educate providers on proper use.
I also urge the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to join us and become part of the solution.
Evelyn McKnight is the founder and president of HONOReform and the HONOReform Foundation in Fremont, Neb. She is co-author of “A Never Event: Exposing the Largest Outbreak of Hepatitis C in American Healthcare History.”