When it comes to disease exposure from unsterilized instruments, few images can compare with a dirty speculum, but using any unclean instrument can be just as horrifying. Yesterday a clinic in Wisconsin informed 2,345 people that they may have been exposed to a variety of blood-borne diseases by a clinician who treated diabetic patients.
Reuters reports that since 2006, a nurse who worked at various Dean Clinic locations in the state had been misusing instruments used to inject insulin. The nurse had been trained to demonstrate how to use an insulin pen and a finger stick device that tests blood sugar levels, and always changed needles after demonstrating the devices on patients. The problem is that the insulin pens were meant to be used in demonstrations on oranges or pillows, not on patients. Plus, even though the needles were clean, blood could get into the devices and be passed on to other patients who used them.
The nurse is no longer working at the clinic (which appears to be how officials are saying she was fired) and the clinic's investigation revealed it was an isolated incident. Patients may have been exposed to Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV, but thankfully it isn't very likely that they contracted anything. Dr. Craig Samitt, the clinic's chief executive, says, "We are taking all precautionary steps to test all of the patients even though the risk level is low." The clinic is retraining all workers on how to use the devices and changing how staff members are observed, so hopefully another mistake like this won't take five years to catch.
These incidents are particularly scary because it seems like patients have no control over the situation, but several experts told CBS News that people can always ask to make sure the needle being used is fresh (though in this situation, that probably wouldn't have helped). Patients who are concerned can request to see the sterile package opened or ask if the doctor has washed his or her hands. Dr. Robert Glatter, an editorial board member for Medscape Emergency Medicine, says, "Although it should not be necessary, this additional step will provide an added layer of patient safety."
Image via Sergey Lavrentev/Shutterstock.