Med Students' Needle-Handling Error Exposes Patients to Potential Infection

The Associated Press is reporting that a group of medical students at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine in Albuquerque did not properly change out needles on medical devices used to test blood glucose levels, thus putting as many as 50 patients at risk for contracting bloodborne pathogens.

The University of New Mexico School of Medicine has posted the following announcement on its Web site:

“On Saturday, April 24, 2010, a group of students from the University of New Mexico Physician Assistant program were volunteering at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque during the Center’s American Indian Week “Pueblo Days” to offer free voluntary blood sugar tests. The device used to prick the finger to get the blood sample required for testing was meant for single patient use and not for multiple patients. Those who volunteered for testing that day may have been put at risk of contracting infections due to potential exposure to diseases spread by blood contact.

“Despite direct faculty supervision, three mistakes were made: They used the wrong device; they were not all properly trained on the device; no records of those tested were kept.

“We estimate that 51 to 55 individuals were tested, potentially exposing these people to other's blood. The diseases of greatest concern are hepatitis B and C although theoretically HIV is also possible. Our best current assessment of the risk of infection is less than a 0.5 percent risk. Even though the risk is small it is something we are very concerned about it and are taking it seriously.

“UNM School of Medicine deeply regrets this error and wants to apologize to all those who may have been exposed, and to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. We are asking that those who were tested come forward so we can better assess any risk from this episode and assure that exposed persons receive appropriate follow-up testing and care. If you know someone who was tested please contact us.

“Those who may have been exposed will be offered follow-up testing for Hepatitis B, C, and HIV. The costs of testing will be covered by UNM.

“Public health authorities are requesting that those who participated in the diabetes screening event should contact 1-888-899-6092 for more information and referral for screening. You may also use this web form to make contact.”

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