Over 1,800 Veterans Exposed to HIV and Hepatitis Because of Dirty Dental Equipment

Just a few days ago I wrote about the Philadelphia V.A. Hospital and Dr. Kao, the doctor accused of administering brachytherapy to hundreds of veterans who suffered cancer relapses and tremendous pain as a result. Now, it appears that veterans at another V.A. hospital have also suffered needlessly because of carelessness in cleaning dental equipment. In fact, 1,800 veterans treated at the John Cochran Veterans Administration may have been exposed to the hepatitis B and C viruses, as well as HIV, according to a letter sent by the Department of Veterans Affairs to vets on June 28.

According to reports, technicians at the hospital washed the dental equipment by hand prior to putting the tools through the sterilization process. However, official protocol requires that the equipment go directly to the hospital’s sterilizing department for specialized cleaning. Experts in infection control and prevention recently stated that while hand washing the equipment helps, it is not enough to remove all the protein material, blood, serum, and debris that’s left on medical instruments after use. Instead, the instruments must go through an enzymatic cleaning process that often combines ultrasound and enzymes to shake the debris off and then dissolve it.

In the letter, the Department of Veterans Affairs urged veterans to get a free blood test as soon as possible to check for viruses. This is not the first time such an incident has occurred: for example, last year three patients at the VA hospitals in Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee all tested positive for HIV after exposure to contaminated equipment. Furthermore, there are thousands more patients that were treated at those hospitals who also need to be tested for the virus.

Representative Russ Carnahan (D-St. Louis) asked the White House last Wednesday to look into the possibility that veterans treated at the hospital were contaminated with potentially deadly viruses. In addition, Carnahan wants those responsible for the error to be disciplined.

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