Texas man contracts hepatitis C after nurse reuses syringe

Thursday April 20 2017

A man being treated at a Texas hospital has been infected with the life-threatening hepatitis C virus after a nurse administered an injection to him with a syringe that had already been used on another patient.

The incident took place in 2015, but it was featured in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report at the end of March after the nurse in question revealed they were not aware of the potential dangers of reusing syringes on multiple patients.

This highlights a worrying lack of knowledge about sharps safety and raises concerns about how this was not picked up sooner, meaning many more patients treated by the nurse could also have been infected with blood-borne diseases in the past.

All patients believed to have been treated by the nurse between April 2014 and October 2015 have since been invited for hepatitis C testing, but fewer than half (46 per cent) have completed this. As a result, many more could be unknowingly living with the infection, placing their sexual partners at risk of contracting the infection from them.

To date, just one male patient has been found to have been infected with the virus. He will now require treatment for the rest of his life in order to prevent the illness from affecting his health further.

This unfortunate incident highlights the importance of healthcare authorities making sure that all members of staff are aware of recommended sharps safety practices, which include disposing of all needles and syringes immediately after use and never reusing a contaminated or broken one.

Specialist needle safety caps are available that prevent syringes from being used more than once or if they are damaged, which also helps to remove the risk of a needlestick injury and subsequent spread of infection occurring.

The authors of the CDC report stated: "This investigation illustrates a need for ongoing education and oversight of healthcare providers regarding safe injection practices.

"Hospital and other settings where injections are prepared and administered should perform routine audits. Syringe reuse, if identified, should be immediately corrected and patient notification should be included as part of the institutional response."