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A New Jersey Hospital Nearly Exposed Its Patients to HIV

Dirty medical instruments could be to blame.


A New Jersey surgery center nearly exposed more than 3,700 patients to HIV and hepatitis due to unsanitary conditions. A recent state investigation found that the HealthPlus Surgery Center in Saddle Brook wasn’t cleaning medical instruments properly, which could have spread the bloodborne pathogens.

“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,” HealthPlus administrator Betty McCabe said in a statement.

Anyone who had a procedure performed at the center between January 1 and September 7, 2018 should get their blood tested for HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C, health officials say. They also cautioned that patients can be infected without feeling sick or experiencing any symptoms.

According to a letter from the center, “during this time period, lapses in infection control in sterilization/cleaning instruments and the injection of medications may have exposed patients to bloodborne pathogens.” The New Jersey Department of Health closed HealthPlus from September 7 to September 28 when it discovered that the center was not following proper procedures.

This does not mean that some 3,000 patients will be diagnosed with HIV or hepatitis. In fact, it is possible that none of the patients were exposed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that the odds of HIV transmission via needle stick are about 23 in 10,000 exposures and, from an injection, 63 in 10,000. Hepatitis B and C are easier to transmit via needle stick, with transmission rates ranging from 6 percent to 62 percent depending upon the viral load. But even these figures assume that we’re dealing with tainted needles. It is unlikely that HealthPlus was using dirty instruments, and more likely that they sterilized instruments poorly.

Nonetheless, even one new case due to HealthPlus’ negligence would be entirely unacceptable.

“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,” McCabe said, adding that HealthPlus will cover any healthcare costs associated with the testing if patients see one of their recommended providers.”

HealthPlus says it has since hired new staff, implemented new cleaning policies, and improved infection control to meet the guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.