Georgetown Medical
Center Notifies Hundreds
Of Possible HIV Exposure!
By Deborah Mitchell
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Almost 300 former patients of Georgetown University Medical Center are being notified of a possible exposure to infections including HIV during x-ray procedures.
This action follows the discovery that a hospital x-ray technician may have used contaminated syringes or needles to siphon painkillers from patients' intravenous lines, replacing the drugs with saline solution, according to report published Thursday by The Washington Post.
On February 2, 2000, technician Jeffery L. Royal was caught siphoning fentanyl, a painkilling drug, from an infusion pump. He was arrested by hospital security immediately, according to Dr. James Welsh, associate medical director at Georgetown University Medical Center. They subsequently turned him over to the Washington, DC metropolitan police, who have been handling the matter since then, he told Reuters Health.
After his arrest, Royal made a statement to the police that ''suggested the possibility that he used contaminated syringes in some cases,'' Welsh explained. Therefore, ``we felt it was in our patients' best interests to take a very aggressive approach to this and to test all patients who could have possibly come in contact with this employee.''
All 294 patients and their physicians, have been sent letters, Welsh continued. Phone calls will also be made next week to any patients who have not responded by then.
The 40-year-old Royal was arraigned in federal court on Tuesday on charges of consumer product tampering, a felony with a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, according to the Post.
``The Georgetown University Medical Center believes that there is very minimal risk of infection to any patient in this situation,'' Welsh added. ``We have exercised every caution and collaborated with public health and law enforcement officials.''
The employee worked at the medical center for a 5-month period of time, from September 1999 to February 2, 2000, in a defined area of the hospital, the interventional radiology department.
There is ``absolutely no risk'' to patients hospitalized before or after these dates, or to patients who did not receive interventional radiology procedures that included IV narcotics and sedatives, Welsh added.
The notification and testing process is being supervised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta and public health officials in Washington, DC and Maryland.
Georgetown officials contacted the CDC early last week, spokesperson Tom Skinner told Reuters Health. Since then, they have had telephone conversations regarding the possible risks to patients and how to best follow-up with these patients and their physicians.
At the moment, it appears that ``the risk to any one patient as an individual is extremely low,'' Skinner said. The CDC will continue to act in a consulting capacity in this matter, but has no plans for any further involvement at this time.
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