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Dirty Needles: How Some Clinics Endanger Patients


Since 2001, 150,000 patients have been given unsafe shots that in many cases resulted in life-threatening diseases, thanks to non-sterile needles and other  unsafe injection practices, according to an investigation by USA Today.

Many of these bad shots took place at smaller outpatient clinics and doctor's offices that are not subject to inspection by the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Two-thirds of these risky injections were given in the past four years.

Although the majority of injections are administered safely, a significant number -  some studies estimate 5 percent - don't follow safety standards, USA Today reported. One University of Pennsylvania infectious disease specialist called it "a hidden epidemic" because there's so little oversight of these smaller facilities. Michael Bell, the associate director for infection control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), called it  "a huge issue [that] really comes down to a matter of greed, ignorance or laziness."

The newspaper, which examined CDC records of injection-related disease outbreaks, found that "at least 80 percent occur in doctors' offices and outpatient clinics, from pain management and endoscopy centers to alternative medicine operations that provide services such as vitamin injections."

Many of these smaller facilities are not inspected or certified by Medicare, which oversees large hospitals and surgical centers that participate in the federal insurance program for the elderly, poor and disabled, reporter Peter Eisler wrote. Instead, they fall under the purview of state health  boards that generally lack the authority and resources to investigate such places.

By not following longstanding CDC guidelines for safe use of sterile injections, USA Today found that errors led to at least 49 disease outbreaks and victims infected with potentially life-threatening bacterial infections, such as MRSA, and sometimes fatal viruses, such as hepatitis. In many cases, doctors or nurses were reusing syringes, or injecting multiple patients from a single-use vial, often to save money.

The newspaper profiled a 57-year-old Nebraska woman who contracted hepatitis C while being treated for cancer at an oncology clinic, and a 64-year-old Nevada man who was infected with hepatitis C at an endoscopy clinic that reused syringes. That clinic endangered tens of thousands of patients in one of the country's largest injection-related health scares, investigators in 2008 discovered.

How can patients protect themselves? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Ask if a facility is certified by Medicare, which would indicate there's more oversight of their medical procedures.
  • Ask your health providers what infection control measures they follow.
  • Ask to watch the syringe being filled and make sure everything is securely packaged before being opened to administer your medicine. According to CDC safety guidelines, syringes and needles are meant to be sterile and single-use. The syringe should be filled from a vial of medicine with an intact seal that indicates it's sterile and has not been previously used.


Photo:  ZaldyImg /flickr










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