Vancouver Patients Warned About Potential Infectious Exposure from Endoscopy Procedure

The Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA) has notified approximately 500 patients who underwent ERCP endoscopy procedures at Victoria General Hospital between June 2008 and January 2010 that they may have been exposed to viruses during their tests.

While the risk is extremely low, VIHA has taken the precautionary step of notifying patients and encouraging them to have follow-up testing done to rule out the possibility of transmission of infection.

“Recently, VIHA conducted a comprehensive review of endoscopy cleaning processes as part of our commitment to patient quality and safety”, stated Dr. Martin Wale, VIHA’s executive medical director for quality, patient safety and infection control. “The review included a thorough examination of our endoscopes to check the effectiveness of our cleaning process.   However, this examination revealed residual biological material on one scope that could result in the transmission of infection.”

“I want to strongly emphasize, and reassure people that the risk is very low,” stressed Wale. “The risk is less than one in thirty million, but we are taking a precautionary approach by notifying patients, because the infections are treatable.”

During the usual endoscope cleaning process, biological matter either on or inside the endoscope must be removed prior to being placed in the disinfector.  If any organic matter remains, it will protect bacteria or viruses from the disinfecting process, potentially allowing bacteria or viruses to be transferred from the endoscope to the next patient.

“Our examination process did not find any visible material on any of our endoscopes,” said Wale.  “However, as a further check of quality control, each endoscope was swabbed thoroughly. At this point, a trace amount of blood was found inside one of the endoscopes tested.”

There is a very, very low risk of contracting hepatitis B, hepatitis C or HIV.  A study from 2006 that examined 340 million endoscopies found extremely low transmission rates for hepatitis B and C (a combined 13 cases, or .0000003 percent) and no transmission of HIV.

VIHA will provide free testing for viruses that could theoretically have been transmitted during the ERCP endoscopy procedure, including the viruses that cause hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV.