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California patients placed at risk by dirty medical needles

medical malpractice syringe

When most people think about medical malpractice, they think of surgical errors or patient neglect. A recent article in USA Today reports that a more fundamental error occurs in up to 5 percent of American hospitals and clinics: the use of dirty syringes.

Experts say that approximately 150,000 patients are treated with dirty syringes annually. The use of dirty syringes is linked to a variety of patient injuries, including the development of antibiotic-resistant infections and the transmission of diseases such as HIV and hepatitis.

“People think, ‘This can’t happen in the United States; this is a Third World thing.’ Unfortunately, it happens on a regular basis, and it affects a lot of people, families, communities,” said a 57-year-old woman who contracted hepatitis C after a clinic used dirty needles while giving her cancer drugs.

“You just feel betrayed, vulnerable,” she added.

Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 150,000 patients are impacted by dirty medical needles annually, this figure is based only on the number of reported cases and represents a fraction of the total instances that occur. Many diseases that patients contract from dirty needles, such as hepatitis, can go undiscovered for years and are never traced back to their source.

“It’s a huge issue,” said Michael Bell, the CDC’s associate director for infection control. “We’re trying to eliminate a range of harms in health care – high-level, complex challenges – and we look behind us and these basic, obvious, completely preventable problems are still occurring.”

“It really comes down to a matter of greed, ignorance or laziness,” Bell added. “It makes us crazy.”

Source: USA Today, “Dirty medical needles put tens of thousands at risk in USA,” Peter Eisler, Dec. 28, 2012