Reused supplies risk infection affecting 700 patients

Over the course of two years, unintentional reuse of insulin pens may have exposed more than 700 patients at the Buffalo (N.Y.) Veterans Administration Medical Center to HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C, reported The Buffalo News.

A routine pharmacy inspection last November revealed that some multi-dose pens were not labeled for individual patients and may have been used on more than one person.

After the inspection, the hospital said it took immediate action to guarantee insulin pens had patient labels and that their use followed pharmaceutical guidelines, the Buffalo News noted.

However, some lawmakers question whether the infection scare signals a systemic patient safety problem throughout the VA healthcare system, the Associated Press reported.

Unsafe injection practices aren't limited to VA hospitals. Syringe, needle and drug vial reuse remains problematic at various healthcare settings, resulting in more than 30 outbreaks of infectious disease and more than 125,000 patient notifications about potential exposure during the past 10 years, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

"This just shouldn't happen, but it does ... and I think the incidents we hear about are likely underreported," Melissa Schaefer of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told the AP.

But amid calls to end the improper reuse of certain medical devices, green-conscious experts encourage safely recycling medical equipment to reduce 2.5 million tons of annual hospital waste, according to an article in Newsweek Magazine.

While not needles or syringes, others types of surgical tools can be disassembled, sterilized, reassembled and sent back into circulation, wrote Kent Sepkowitz, an infectious-disease specialist.

For recycling by resterilization to save money without jeopardizing patient safety, hospitals must set and follow strict regulations. In fact, none of the reported infection outbreaks stemmed from properly recycled medical equipment, Sepkowitz noted.

To learn more:
- here's the Buffalo News article
- read the AP article
- here's the Newsweek article