A Long Island, New York hospital has issued a serious health warning to more than 4,000 diabetic patients following treatment with an insulin pen, stating that they may have been exposed and may be at risk for developing HIV and hepatitis. The problem lies in the fact that hospital staff used the same insulin pens over and over again across multiple patients.
While the needle was changed with each new patient, the reservoir holding the insulin hormone was not changed. Using the same insulin reservoir with multiple patients presents the potential problem of blood back-flow, sources said. If blood from one or more patients did in fact back-flow into the reservoir, the insulin held inside would have become contaminated immediately. And if those patients whose blood back-flowed into the reservoir contaminating the insulin were infected with HIV or hepatitis, those diseases could potentially be passed on to other patients who received injections afterward.
This problem first came to light when a nurse at the hospital told one of her colleagues it was okay to reuse the insulin pens. Red flags went up and issues of possible contamination were addressed. However, this situation is not just a current one; it’s a long standing problem. In fact, patients who were treated with an insulin pen as far back as 2011 have been sent a letter and are at significant risk for developing a life-threatening disease.
HIV can and in many cases does lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), and hepatitis is a group of viral infections that can significantly affect the liver. South Nassau Communities Hospital is notifying the 4,000 diabetic patients who are at risk for developing HIV and hepatitis by mailing them a letter explaining the situation and telling them what to do next. A hospital spokesman said that while the risk of infection is “extremely low,” the hospital is on alert and wants to take every precaution necessary by encouraging patients who were exposed to get their blood tested for HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C within 60 days of receiving their notification letter.
Testing is free, confidential, and completely voluntary but highly recommended to determine if any of the more than 4,000 diabetic patients exposed were infected with either disease as a result of sharing an insulin pen with other patients. Family members who were visiting loved ones at the hospital were frightened by the news and were in a state of shock and disbelief that something like this could happen. Following this mishap, sources said that hospital officials moved swiftly to ensure this type of situation never happens again by completely banning the use of insulin pens. Instead, they have switched to single-patient, single-use vials when administering insulin to diabetic patients.
Patients who are at risk should call the hospital’s toll-free hotline at 1-516-208-0029 to schedule a blood test for HIV and hepatitis. So far, about 200 patients have called in to sign up for blood testing. Once tested, patients can expect results within approximately two weeks. At this time, no one has tested positive for HIV or hepatitis. The Long Island, New York hospital has issued a serious health warning to more than 4,000 diabetic patients following treatment with an insulin pen, stating that they may have been exposed and may be at risk for developing HIV and hepatitis.
By Donna W. Martin