thousands of patients sickened each year by poor injection practices

Based on news of several unusual disease clusters around the country, USA TODAY just released a major investigation into what appears to be a major risk to patients: poor injection practices such as injecting multiple patients from single-use medication bottles, reusing syringes, and even reusing needles.

The CDC estimates that, since 2001, at least 150,000 people have been affected by bad injections — two-thirds of those in just the past four years. And that number is likely just the tip of the iceberg, the agency claims. At least 49 disease outbreaks can be traced to bad injections, but the true number of victims is difficult to ascertain, because the illnesses may not be associated with the bad injections unless a cluster of victims appears.

Reusing a syringe, even if the needle is replaced, can put patients at risk for infections and blood-borne diseases such as MRSA, hepatitis C and HIV. Giving more than one patient a shot from a single-use vial does not meet basic sterility protocols.

USA TODAY obtained this information by reviewing state and federal reports of disease outbreaks, court documents and regulatory agencies’ records, along with interviewing victims, health care professionals and public health officials.

According to that review, some 80 percent of injection-related disease outbreaks originate from doctor’s offices, long-term care facilities and outpatient clinics, many of which operate with little regulatory oversight.

In an anonymous 2010 survey, as many as 6 percent of health care professionals who administer injections admitted that they “sometimes or always” use single-use medication vials for more than one patient. The vials often contain more than enough medication for a single use, which makes it tempting not to waste the medication. The CDC’s injection safety protocols prohibit administering shots from any vial once the sterile seal is broken.

While vial re-use is a serious problem, more shocking is certainly the evidence that at least 1 percent of doctors, nurses and other clinical staff admit to reusing syringes, sometimes only swapping out the needle. This is a known infection risk and is simply unacceptable under any circumstances.

“People think, ‘This can’t happen in the United States; this is a Third World thing,'” says the head of safe injection advocacy group HONOReform. She herself contracted hepatitis C from a bad injection during cancer treatment a decade ago. “Unfortunately, it happens on a regular basis, and it affects a lot of people, families, communities.”

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

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