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HIV Risk Due to Tainted Insulin Pens


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HIV risk due to tainted insulin pens has a Connecticut hospital issuing a mea culpa, along with a statement advising patients of the possible exposure and recommended testing to rule out disease transmission. The possible exposure occurred at Griffin Hospital in Derby, Connecticut over a six-year period. Patients identified for possible risk should be tested within the next 30 days for hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV as a precaution, according to the hospital statement. Moreover, Griffin Hospital has offered free and confidential testing for patients affected.

According to the hospital statement, insulin pens ordered for diabetic patients while hospitalized at Griffin Hospital might have been misused, and as a result, exposed individuals to possible disease transmission. Additionally, the Connecticut care facility stated that pens used between September 1, 2008 and May 7, 2014 might have been used by more than one patient. Moreover, the care facility contends that pens have been ordered for more than 3,100 patients since September 1, 2008, and at least five nurses on staff have admitted they used a pen on multiple patients.

While the Connecticut hospital has an approximate number of patients at risk for HIV and other disease exposure due to the tainted insulin pens, hospital officials have not identified specific patients who might have received injections from another patient’s insulin pen. Additionally, the care facility contends there is also no evidence that needles were actually shared. Moreover, the institution claimed needles were not necessarily reused, but the pen’s insulin cartridge could have been contaminated with the “backflow” of blood or skin cells from another patient.

In the letter sent to Griffin Hospital patients, the Connecticut care facility claimed it discovered several incidences in which multiple dosage insulin pen cartridges intended for single patient use could have been used for more than one patient. Once they discovered the situation, the hospital stated it stopped using that type of insulin pen to avoid any further potential for improper use and unnecessary disease exposure.

Infectious disease specialists trained in the area of HIV and other disease exposure stressed there is positive news and some relief about Griffin Hospital’s unsettling announcement that it misused the medical device. The insulin pens involved in the possible contamination were Flex Pens as opposed to syringes. Flex Pens contain insulin needles that were used to penetrate the surface of the skin and are far less invasive than a syringe, so the risk of blood exposure with such needles is very small. While the care facility claimed that the Flex Pen needles were not used more than once or on different patients, medical experts contend even if repeat needle use did occur, the chances of contamination remain slim.

The greatest risk of HIV and other disease exposure due to tainted insulin pens could be attributed to the back-pressure exerted against the medical device, which could draw infected skin and blood cells into the Flex Pen’s cartridge. Medical experts claim it is highly unlikely that happened, and even less likely that those fluids were infected and then transferred to other patients. While medical professionals commend Griffin Hospital officials for being open and honest about the situation and issuing a mea culpa, they stated this situation was completely preventable and could be attributed to no other explanation except human error.

Patients identified for possible exposure via the tainted insulin needles should be tested within the next 30 days for hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV as a precautionary measure. Additionally, Griffin Hospital has admitted the care facility’s culpability in the matter, has started contacting at-risk patients, and has offered free and confidential testing for patients. Moreover, special phone lines have also been set up for information and patient assistance and will be staffed from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. EST/EDT. Any individual who is concerned they might be affected should call 203-732-1411 or 203-732-1340.

By Leigh Haugh

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