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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
HIV-Positive Nurse Who Took Drugs from Texas Hospital Sparks
T.A. Badger
March 28, 2002
Associated Press (03.28.02) - Thursday, March 28, 2002

South Texas Regional Medical Center in Jourdanton, 25 miles south of San Antonio, is urging hundreds of patients to get a blood test after an HIV-positive nurse admitted to tampering with drug vials from the hospital's dispensary. Of specific concern is that the nurse may have hidden a theft of Demerol by refilling vials with saline using a syringe she may have used to inject herself.

Allan Smith, chief executive of the hospital, said the nurse was fired Jan. 4, the day she admitted taking the drugs and revealed her HIV status. Smith said fewer than 200 patients were treated in the intensive care and surgical units while the nurse worked there. However, the hospital sent letters to all 1,100 patients who received Demerol during that time to ask them to get their blood tested. "We feel we've done the right thing to ensure the safety of the public," he said on Wednesday.

The nurse has said she did not use the same syringe. But the hospital fears that the nurse may have refilled single-dose vials of Demerol with saline using a syringe containing a small amount of her blood. If the nurse did use the same syringe and if those vials were given to patients, then there would be a small likelihood that HIV could be transmitted to the patients. Demerol is a brand name for the narcotic meperidine that is widely used as a painkiller and can be addictive.

Dr. F. Blaine Hollinger, a professor of Virology at Baylor College of Medicine, said the odds of developing HIV from a direct need stick with contaminated blood are minimal, and the risks in this case are even less. He said, though, that blood tests were still warranted.