Thousands of patients at a Long Island hospital may have been exposed to HIV and hepatitis. They have been advised to get tested for the diseases as soon as possible.
South Nassau Communities Hospital wrote letters to more than 4,000 patients advising them to get tested for the diseases, which they may have contracted from receiving insulin, CBS New York reports. While the needles were never reused, the insulin pen reservoir may have been, the hospital said. The pens contain multiple insulin doses, so a patient’s infected blood could potentially backflow into the next dose.
Hospital spokesman Damian Becker called the recommended testing an “abundance of caution” and said the risk of infection was “extremely low.”
No one observed any hospital staff actually use the reservoir more than once. But because a nurse was overheard saying that doing so was ok, the hospital has alerted patients of the risk.
“It’s actually very scary,” said hospital visitor Andra Vetro, “because you come to the hospital when you’re sick, and you don’t hope to get even worse while you’re inside the hospital.”
South Nassau has since changed its procedure for administering insulin, switching from insulin pens to single-patient-use vials.
Newsday reports that hospitals have misused insulin pens several times in the past few years, leading to a 2009 FDA warning to remind health care workers that the pens are intended for one single use. Despie the warning, last year the VA’s Buffalo hospital alerted 395 patients of possible exposure to hepatitis through insulin pen misuse. 18 were found to have contracted a form of the disease.