DIRTY NEEDLES: Probe Turns Up Relatively Low Number of Infections
The results of a "long-awaited" investigation in California indicate that there are "no excess rates of infection among people whose blood was drawn by a Palo Alto-based health technician who admitted reusing needles," Knight Ridder/San Jose Mercury News reports. Investigators now are looking into other possible sources of infection including high-risk sex or drug abuse for those who did test positive for HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C. But if those exposures are ruled out, evidence would point to former SmithKline Beecham Clinical Laboratories employee Elaine Giorgi who admitted to reusing needles when drawing blood (Krieger, Knight Ridder/San Jose Mercury News, 12/28). Tests covering 4,890 patients who had blood work done at 18 different SmithKline Beecham labs where Giorgi had worked since 1974 turned up eight cases of HIV, 23 cases of hepatitis B and 49 cases of hepatitis C. Dr. Jon Rosenberg, the state epidemiologist in charge of the testing said that the results indicated "less infection than is present in the general population of the United States." Based on CDC estimates, a random sample of the same size would turn up 88 cases of hepatitis C, 22 cases of hepatitis B and 14-19 cases of HIV. Rosenberg added, "There is no indication of any problem." Giorgi had admitted to washing and reusing butterfly needles on patients with difficult-to-pierce veins. In the early portion of the investigation, state officials offered free voluntary tests to 15,300 patients who had blood work done at the labs where Giorgi had worked. Officials deemed most at risk 3,800 patients who had blood work performed at a SmithKline lab in Palo Alto, where Giorgi had worked mostly alone between June 1997 and April 1999. The investigation took particular interest in 850 patients who had received their precautionary HIV and hepatitis tests less than six months after having blood drawn by Giorgi. The 850 had blood work done by Giorgi during the time she actually admitted reusing needles. The disclosure and subsequent investigation have prompted several responses. Assemblywoman Carole Migden (D) sponsored a new law that increases the training requirements for phlebotomists from 10 hours to 80 hours of classroom instruction and clinical experience (Russell, San Francisco Chronicle, 12/28). San Jose attorney Steven Blick is suing SmithKline Beecham on behalf of all potentially infected people. Responding to the relatively low numbers of infection the investigation turned up, he said, "For some people, these numbers may be reassuring. For others, they will not be. Any way you cut it, there are still a significant number of infections" (Krieger, Knight Ridder/San Jose Mercury News, 12/28).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.