Topic: Blood Risk
technician caught reusing needles;thousands could be affected
8.58 p.m. ET (059 GMT) April 16, 1999 By Jordan
sent to the SmithKline Beecham Clinical Laboratory since the
technician began working there could be at risk, state health
officials said Friday. Letters warning of the risks are being
believe the risk of anyone being infected is extremely low,''
said Dr. Jon Rosenberg, the state epidemiologist directing the
investigation. Still, "we believe these people have the
right to be notified."
technician, a woman in her 50s who has since been fired,
typically worked alone. She told investigators that she washed
the needles with water and diluted hydrogen peroxide, then put
them in clean needle containers before drawing blood from
patients with difficult-to-pierce veins.
No one knows
how often she did this, or why, although investigators who
interviewed her said she apparently didn't do it maliciously.
Her name was not released.
nothing she said that suggests she was deliberately putting
patients at risk even though at some point she realized that
it was wrong," Rosenberg said.
only learned what she was doing after a co-worker discovered
the needles being washed in a sink and "was nauseated,''
said Dr. Ed Kaufman, national medical director for SmithKline
we are both shocked and baffled by this practice. It's a
breach of medical care,'' Kaufman said at a news conference
with Rosenberg. "She can't explain why she did it."
said the risk of anyone being infected is low because drawing
blood is less likely to transmit viruses than injections,
because she claimed she only reused needles occasionally and
because the hydrogen peroxide would kill some viruses.
doctors at Stanford University Hospital, which is adjacent
from the lab, were alarmed. The lab is not affiliated with the
breaks a lot of rules we teach our staff here not to do,"
said Jim Schweikhard, director of environmental health and
safety at the hospital. "It really puts patients at risk
for various diseases."
who had blood drawn at the lab in November, had her blood
tested Friday for HIV and hepatitis B and C. "I'm
upset," she said. "I just want to find out what the
results are," Ms. Paley said.
technician, who was trained as a phlebotomist in 1994 and
certified to draw blood by SmithKline after a company training
program, also worked at several other laboratories in the San
Francisco Bay area.
The state and
county health departments "are intensively investigating
every one of those places" although they have no evidence
she reused needles elsewhere, Rosenberg said.
learned of the problem on March 22, SmithKline has reviewed
training procedures at its 800 blood test sites across the
country, and is satisfied that its training procedures are
adequate, Kaufman said.