Air Force Medical Service discovered that endoscopes (used for upper and lower gastrointestinal procedures) at the Al Udeid Air Base clinic in Qatar were “cleaned in a manner inconsistent with sterilization guidelines” from April 2008 through April of 2016, according to the Air Force Times. Over 135 patients may have been exposed to blood-borne diseases, including HIV and Hepatitis during the eight-year period.
Monday’s press release from the Air Force Surgeon General did not go into detail about how this dangerous oversight could have occurred for so long, but was apologetic to the patients who have been exposed.
“Providing quality health care to our airmen and their families is our top priority,” said Brig. Gen. Robert Miller, commander of the Air Force Medical Operations Agency, in the release. “We apologize to our patients and assure them that appropriate actions have been taken to address and mitigate the causes that led to this problem.”
Despite exposure to these blood-borne diseases, the risk of infection is “very small, particularly in a deployed environment,” said Larine Barr, a spokeswoman for the Air Force surgeon general. Barr said this is because all service members are required to have a negative HIV test before they deploy, and the Air Force also tests service members for Hepatitis B.
Miller said that although the risk of infection is small, patients who may have been exposed should get tested to make sure. The Air Force Medical Service is currently notifying exposed patients and connecting them with places to get tested, receive medical counseling, and have all of their questions answered.
The Air Force has also issued a service-wide patient safety alert to ensure all medical facilities are adhering to proper sterilization processes. In addition, Air Force health and safety experts are reviewing current practices in order to improve them and prevent something like this from happening again.
“Our patients put their trust in us when they step into any of our medical facilities,” said Miller. “We take potential risk to patient safety very seriously and are committed to informing those under our care of any increased risk.”