Nearly 300 people got much more than they bargained for after visiting Baystate Noble Hospital in Westfield, Massachusetts, for what they thought was going to be a routine colonoscopy. The patients may have been exposed to several blood-borne diseases, including HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C, after medical staff failed to properly disinfect instrumentation used during the procedure, according to 22News.(1)
The mishap occurred several years ago, between June 2012 and April 2013; however, the media seems to have just now gotten wind of it. The hospital notified 293 patients who they believe may have been exposed to the diseases, one of which can be fatal, and encouraged them to come in and get tested.
Though the risk for infection is serious and has happened at other hospitals, administrators assured both the media and at-risk patients that their chances for infection were low. “I’m extremely confident the patients were at low risk,” said Dr. Stanley Strzempko, chief of medicine at Baystate Noble. A few patients have gone in to get screened but their results are currently unknown.
“I’m confident all of the patients are healthy”
Baystate Noble’s President Ronald Bryant told 22News that hospital administrators became aware of the problem after realizing some of their staff may not have been trained properly “on the last phase of dis-infection.”
Medical workers say colonoscopes, the devices used in colonoscopies, are complex and difficult to clean because they contain multiple components. Yet, the devices are reused for colonoscopies, as well as other medical procedures.
Bryant, too, expressed certainty that the patients in question are healthy. “We have to do what’s right for the patients at all times as uncomfortable as it may be. And we have to notify them, and we have to take care of them,” he said.
Baystate Noble’s spokesman Ben Craft offered the following explanation as to why the contamination happened:
“In June 2012 Noble Hospital began using new colonoscopes, which required a different approach to disinfection than instruments used previously at Noble. Due to a failure in training, the disinfection of those endoscopes between procedures did not adequately expose the devices’ single water irrigation channel to high-level disinfection during the last phase of cleaning. This is similar to other, more recent problems with sterilization encountered across the country with endoscopes used for other procedures.”
Colonoscopies carry serious risks of infection
The other events he is referring to include an incident at an Atlanta hospital, where 450 patients were potentially exposed to harmful diseases from unsanitized colonoscopes. Another case occurred in Seattle, Washington, where 35 people did in fact become infected from colonoscopy procedures.(2)
“There was documented transmission from a specific type of endoscope called a CRE scope, which is even harder to clean because of its attachments,” said Baystate Noble’s Dr. Doug Salvador. Naturally, the media questioned him as to why hospitals are still reusing such a device, considering the string of recent outbreaks.
Colonoscopies may damage the colon, causing serious complications
“The reality is, they don’t need to be disposable,” he answered. But that’s only if the tools are properly cleaned, which — as has been demonstrated in many instances — they are not.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also advised people not to worry, stating that the risk of becoming infected with something after having an endoscopic procedure is rare: about 1 in 1.8 million.
However, not everyone agrees health risks caused by colonoscopies are that rare.
“Harms from a colonoscopy may arise from the preparation, the sedation, and the procedure,” says Dr. John McDougall, an American physician and best-selling author who believes a plant-based diet can cure degenerative diseases.(3)
Colonoscopes “must travel through 6 feet of torturous and turning bowel with four right angle turns,” explains McDougall, adding that colonoscopy patients may be at risk for a punctured colon.
“In the United States, serious complications occur in an estimated 5 per 1,000 procedures,” and included in those complications is a perforated colon, which, on average, happens in about 1 in 1,000 procedures.