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Sterilization Breach May Have Exposed Patients with HIV, Hep B, and Hep C

Porter Adventist Hospital

Patients who received surgery at Denver-based Porter Adventist Hospital may be at risk.

Imagine the horror of undergoing spinal surgery, only to find out later during recovery that you might have been exposed to HIV, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C. That’s the sobering reality that many Coloradans are now grappling with.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and Porter Adventist Hospital representatives are notifying patients who had orthopedic or spine surgery at Porter Adventist Hospital between July 21, 2016 and Feb. 20, 2018, which is the span of time in which the breach may have occurred.

“The notification is about an infection control breach that may have put some orthopedic or spine surgery patients at risk for surgical site infections or for hepatitis B, hepatitis C, or HIV,” Department of Health Executive Director and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Larry Wolk said in a statement. “The process for cleaning surgical instruments following orthopedic and spine surgeries was found to be inadequate, which may have compromised the sterilization of the instruments.”

The protocol for cleaning surgical instruments after orthopedic and spine surgeries were “found to be inadequate,” which could have compromised proper sterilization of the instruments.

Porter Adventist Hospital employees were forced to disclose the breach and the risk of exposure via mailed letters to patients who were in the infection control breach zone. The hospital crew has reportedly stopped using all surgical equipment from during the period of the breach.

As of April 4, the department stated that it is unaware of any infections among patients in relation to the breach.

According to The Denver Post, the letter explained that in the event of a surgical infection, it usually manifests itself after 30 days, but in rare cases, it can take up to a year. It usually only takes that long when a prosthetic limb is involved.

Porter Adventist Hospital is operated by Centura Health.

"We want to assure patients that our team immediately acted to remedy the situation. Recent survey results released by The Joint Commission, which accredits hospitals in the United States, revealed no errors in our process or protocols," a hospital rep told CNN.

Surgical infections are manifested by pus, pain, or redness and tenderness to the touch. While risk of exposure to HIV is rare, the seriousness of surgical infections overall cannot be understated.

In an unrelated case, a sterilization issue involving surgical tools led to the infection of nine patients at a Colorado Hospital in 2016. Three of them died. In that case, the infections involved a duodenoscope, a “hard-to-clean” surgical tool that is inserted in the throat.

Surgical barriers and techniques to prevent HIV transmission during surgery have been in place for decades and exposure during surgery is so extremely uncommon. (The same can be said in field of dentistry as well.)

The patients who may be exposed are currently being tested by LabCorp. Results will reportedly be procured within 14 to 30 days. Patients are urged to call a hotline (303-778-5694) if they have concerns or for more information.

The people behind Porter Adventist Hospital are working hard to restore trust in the community, after being forced to admit that not all surgical cleaning practices had taken place. Like all other American hospitals, patients are its “top priority.”

The estimates of the number of patients who may have been exposed have not been released. A disease control investigation is ongoing, according to Wolk’s statement.

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Benjamin M. Adams