OLEAN, N.Y. (WIVB) - Olean General Hospital raised the red flag after discovering staff had been reusing insulin pens and now patients are testing positive for a potentially fatal disease.
The Cattaraugus County Board of Health has been informed of 13 confirmed cases of Hepatitis attorneys for patients and former patients of Olean General Hospital believe stem from the multiple use of insulin pens at the hospital over a period of three years. It's a development that has left nearly 2,000 patients and former patients on edge.
Officials at Olean General Hospital sent more than 1,900 letters to patients and former patients they may be at risk for Hepatitis, HIV, or other blood-borne illnesses. Hospitals were told to stop this practice by the federal government back in 2009.
Don Chiari, of Brown Chiari Attorneys, said, "The FDA had alerted the public and health care professionals, specifically, that these insulin pens were not to be used for multiple patients."
Several of the Olean Hospital patients that received those letters contacted the Brown Chiari law firm. Now they are learning as many as a dozen of those patients have tested positive for Hepatitis C, and Hepatitis B.
John Elmore, of Brown Chiari Attorneys, said, "And then those that have tested positive for Hepatitis C, it is just increased. Hepatitis C is so dangerous. You are in danger of getting liver cirrhosis, you are in danger of dying or having to undergo a liver transplant."
As most people familiar with diabetes know, a single patient can use the same insulin pen over and over, changing the tip each time. But it is not acceptable to re-use the pen for multiple patients, which might have been the case at Olean General and the VA Hospital in Buffalo.
"Is that the nurses were taking off the needle, putting on another needle, and using it. What they were not realizing, apparently, is that these blood-borne pathogens can go back up into the actual insulin itself," Chiari said.
Olean General Hospital says to date, it has not identified a single patient who ever received an insulin injection from another patient's insulin pen.
In a statement, the hospital said, "The hospital proactively contacted the New York State Health Department even though we felt then and feel now that the possibility that anyone contracted an infection from an insulin pen at OGH was extremely remote. We acted in the best interest of our patients. It was the right thing to do."
The hospital noted that a review of more than 250 medical journal clinical articles found no evidence of a patient ever received a blood infection from an insulin pen and that the hospital has no internal documentation of any patient who received insulin via an insulin pen contracting a blood-borne infection between November 2009 and January 2013.
In addition, though attorneys for the patients believe the patients were infected at Olean General Hospital, here are some facts about Hepatitis C:
- It is a virus, making it difficult, if not impossible, to determine the source of exposure
- Approximately 2% of the U.S. population 20 years of age or older have been infected
- Approximately 3.2 million people in the U.S. have chronic Hepatitis C
- Risk factors for Hepatitis C include: injecting drug, past drug use, HIV infection, received donated blood or organs before 1992, blood exposure, unprotected sex, piercings or tattoos
News 4 reached out to the Cattaraugus County Health Commissioner on Thursday, but our calls were not returned.
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