dirtyneedle

Dirty medical needles put tens of thousands at risk in USA

by Peter Eisler, USA TODAY  |  published on December 29, 2012

When seven people arrived at a Delaware hospital in March with drug-resistant MRSA infections, the similarities were alarming.

All of the patients had the same strain of MRSA, all had the infections in joints, and all had gotten injections in those joints at the same orthopedic clinic in a three-day span. State health officials found that the clinic had injected multiple patients with medication from a vial that was meant to be used only once, spreading the MRSA bacteria to a new patient with each shot.

A month later, three patients in Arizona were hospitalized with MRSA infections, also following shots at a pain clinic. Again, state and county health officials tied the cases to the injection of multiple patients from a single-dose vial. A fourth shot recipient died; investigators noted that MRSA “could not be ruled out” as a cause.

In July, more than 8,000 patients of an oral surgeon in Colorado were advised to get tested for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and hepatitis after state health investigators found that his office reused syringes to inject medication through patients’ IV lines. Six patients have tested positive for one of the diseases.

As drug-resistant superbugs and increasingly virulent viruses menace the medical community, health officials still face a quiet threat that was supposed to die with the advent of the disposable syringe more than 50 years ago: dirty needles.

Since 2001, more than 150,000 patients nationwide have been victims of unsafe injection practices, and two-thirds of those risky shots were administered in just the past four years, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The errors led to at least 49 disease outbreaks, a USA TODAY examination shows, and a trail of victims suffering with potentially life-threatening bacterial infections, such as MRSA, and sometimes fatal viruses, such as hepatitis.

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