CBC.ca (Canada) (08.29.2013)
A Canadian hospital sent letters this week to nearly 2,500 colposcopy patients to notify them that they might be at risk for HIV and other infections. The Miramichi Regional Hospital in New Brunswick informed women who underwent colposcopy treatments at its facilities between May 1999 and May 2013 that they should be tested for HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C because staff did not always apply sterilization measures on forceps used during the procedures.
A colposcopy is a procedure used to examine a vagina and cervix in response to abnormal Pap test results. If a healthcare provider notes a problem, they will take a biopsy of tissue, using forceps, for further testing.
According to officials, staff sterilized medical instruments thoroughly every night, but if the clinic had an abundance of patients during a day, staff sometimes instead would clean forceps with a high-level disinfection process, which “destroys 99.99 percent of blood-borne pathogens such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV.” Dr. Gordon Dow, an infectious disease specialist at the hospital, emphasized, however, that the risk of infection is "very, very small," and said a review of medical literature could find no cases where high-level disinfection caused the transmission of any of the viral infections.
An employee identified the problem in May 2013 and the hospital changed procedures immediately. John McGarry, president of Horizon Health Network, said they waited three months to disclose the findings so they could assess the risk and receive advice from experts. "Again, while I firmly believe that disclosing this information is the right thing to do, I cannot underscore strongly enough that the risk of infection to any of our patients is extremely low," he said, and added "I, on behalf of everyone at Horizon, apologize for this error and the resulting apprehension this news may cause our patients."