UPDATE: As of Thursday, 117 patients have returned for blood tests at W.W. Hastings Hospital in Tahlequah, Cherokee Nation officials reported. None have tested positive for HIV or hepatitis. Officials still are trying to contact two patients to alert them that they need to be tested.
Below is the original version of this story.
A Cherokee Nation hospital is testing 186 patients for HIV and hepatitis after a nurse allegedly reused syringes to administer medications.
The nurse violated protocols by using the same vial of medication and syringe to inject more than one intravenous bag at W.W. Hastings Hospital in Tahlequah, Cherokee officials said Monday. The nurse no longer works for the tribe, officials said.
“Patients were never directly in contact with any needle,” hospital CEO Brian Hail said. “Medication was administered into an IV bag or tubing. The likelihood of blood-borne pathogens traveling up the lines into an IV bag or IV tubing to cause cross contamination from using the same syringe is extremely remote.”
As a precaution, however, the hospital is recommending that patients who were treated at the hospital between January and April return for blood tests.
As of Monday, 64 patients had been screened, and none had tested positive.
“Test results from every patient thus far have shown no harmful exposure and have reinforced our belief that patient health is not at risk,” Hall said.
Officials were still working to notify eight patients that they need to be tested, Hail said.
While strongly recommending against reusing syringes with IV bags, researchers have concluded that the risk of transmitting a disease that way was very low, according to a 2010 study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
The risk of transmitting the hepatitis-B virus was less than 53 in 1 million, while the risk of transmitting hepatitis C was even lower, less than 4.3 in 1 million, according to the study. The risk of transmitting HIV was approximately 0.15 in 1 million.
Nonetheless, the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges hospitals to avoid reusing needles and syringes.
“When it is discovered that reuse of a needle or syringe has occurred, all patients who may have been affected should be notified and informed to get tested,” according to CDC protocols.
The CDC recommends that when possible, hospitals even avoid sharing vials of medication among patients.
While disappointed that a hospital employee failed to follow certain rules, the Cherokee Tribal Council seems pleased with how officials have responded so far, Speaker Joe Byrd told the Tulsa World.
Tribal officials acted quickly to fix the problem and to notify affected patients, Byrd said.
“We’re a big government, and we have to do our due diligence to make sure things are handled properly,” he said. “You can be sure that I’ll have my pulse on the situation.”