News and Commentary

Over 3,700 Patients At New Jersey Surgery Center May Have Been Exposed To HIV, Hepatitis

According to New Jersey’s State Department of Health, an ambulatory surgery center did not follow proper sterilization procedures and may have exposed almost over 3,700 patients to HIV and hepatitis B and C.

The department stated that “lapses in infection control” and sterilization were found during an investigation of HealthPlus Surgery Center in Saddle Brook, New Jersey. According to CBS News, the surgery center is alerting 3,778 patients that they may have been exposed to infections. The surgery center sent a message to patients asserting, “during this time period, lapses in infection control in sterilization/cleaning instruments and the injection of medications may have exposed patients to bloodborne pathogen.”

The surgery center stated that their staff did not follow “proper sterilization procedures” and “failed to comply with other regulations regarding the dispensing and storage of medication, as well as infection control planning and procedures.” The health department counseled, “Although the risk of infection is low, out of an abundance of caution, HEALTHPLUS and the New Jersey Department of Health recommend patients get blood tests for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV.”

The surgery center was closed by the state on September 7 for three weeks; in that interim period, according to HealthPlus, new staff members were hired, infection control was improved, and training was implemented for the new sterile-processing staff. All medical equipment was made pristine.

The surgery center stated, “The New Jersey Department of Health’s move to close the facility provided an opportunity to focus more intently on quality, safety and a consistent adherence to sound policies and procedures. As a result, we have made significant improvements to ensure our patients’ safety and good health.”

HealthPlus Surgery Center Administrator Betty McCabe stated, “It is important to note that to date, there have not been reports of any infections or illness related to the investigation. However, HealthPlus and the New Jersey Department of Health are recommending that those patients get tested as soon as possible. We recognize that this may be upsetting to our patients, and we are taking this matter very seriously and taking steps to assist them during this process.”

Hepatitis B and C are both liver infections. There is a vaccine for hepatitis B, but not one for hepatitis C.

According to the CDC:

Acute hepatitis B is a short-term illness that occurs within the first 6 months after someone is exposed to the hepatitis B virus. An acute infection can range in severity from a mild illness with few or no symptoms to a serious condition requiring hospitalization. Some people, especially adults, are able to clear the virus without treatment. People who clear the virus become immune and cannot get infected with the hepatitis B virus again. Acute infection can — but does not always — lead to chronic infection. Chronic hepatitis B is a lifelong infection with the hepatitis B virus. Over time, chronic hepatitis B can cause serious health problems, including liver damage, cirrhosis, liver cancer, and even death … most people become infected with the Hepatitis C virus by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs. For some people, hepatitis C is a short-term illness but for 70%–85% of people who become infected with Hepatitis C, it becomes a long-term, chronic infection.

There are an estimated 850,000 people living with hepatitis B; an estimated 2.4 million people living with hepatitis C. 3 in 4 people with hepatitis C were born from 1945-1965

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