MONROE, Conn. - Routine flu shots turned into a bad
scare here amid allegations that a local doctor
neglected to change syringes when giving residents
Claude Light, MD, who also doubled as the town's
public health director, resigned from his
directorship after it was alleged that he did not
change syringes when immunizing about 468 residents
against the influenza virus at a local high school.
An assisting nurse who said she witnessed the doctor
administering the doses without changing the syringe
reported him to the state health department.
While calling the chance of exposure to a
bloodborne disease remote, state health officials
recommended that those who were exposed receive
hepatitis B prophylaxis. Connecticut has documented
only one case of hepatitis B in Monroe County since
Richard Melchreit, MD, of the state health
department, said the population who received the flu
shots is considered an extremely low-risk group for
HIV and hepatitis. Those the doctor immunized
included senior citizens, town and school system
employees and several retired Roman Catholic nuns.
"Of all the infections that can be transmitted by
blood, hepatitis B is our main concern," said
Melchreit. "Exposure could come if an infected
person's blood is drawn back into the needle as the
plunger is pulled back and then somehow injected
into the next person, but no blood was reported
drawn back [by Light]."
Light insisted to state investigators that he
used fresh needles for every patient, but did not
realize that Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC) standards required changing the
syringe after each patient, as well.
He used one syringe for each vial of flu vaccine,
which contains 10 to 12 doses. The CDC standards
were adopted out of concern that patients inoculated
with the same syringe might face infection with
hepatitis B or AIDS. But exposure to HIV would be
even more remote because the virus is not as easily
transmitted as hepatitis B, said health
investigators. Because of his actions, his 30-year
medical practice is now in jeopardy.
"When the standards changed, I probably should
have changed, too, but I just didn't know," said
Light. "I thought what I was doing was perfectly
acceptable and risk-free, no problem."
This is not the first time a doctor has been
caught using the same syringe when immunizing
patients. Two years ago, as part of a segment on the
flu season, a national morning news show invited a
doctor to give its news anchors their annual flu
shots live on the air.
But the two reporters became unwitting
participants in another story when the doctor was
observed by millions of viewers to be using the same
needle and syringe to inoculate the news team. The
scene resulted in a series of reports by the program
on proper immunization techniques and the inherent
dangers of using tainted needles and syringes.
But single-use needles and syringes have been
standard practice in the medical community for quite
some time, and a spokesperson for the CDC said the
agency has recommended the single use of needles and
syringes since 1993.
The Connecticut Medical Examining Board has
launched an investigation of its own to determine
whether Light's actions warrant the board revoking
his medical license. According to the statement of
charges, the board members found that Light "failed
to conform to accepted standards of medical practice
in placing the public at unnecessary risk of
contracting certain diseases and illnesses."
The town council has offered to pay for hepatitis
B vaccine not covered by insurance. The extra
vaccines could cost the town of 17,000 people more
than $100,000. "What has us concerned is that people
hearing this will decide not to get their seasonal
flu shots," said Aaron Roome, PhD, MPH,
epidemiologist with the state department of public
health. "That would be a mistake."