Between April and September, one of the Goshen Hospital's seven surgical sterilization technicians skipped a step in a multistep cleaning process for certain surgical instruments, according to news reports and a statement from the hospital. Though those surgical instruments still went through other disinfection and sterilization procedures with a "wide margin of safety," it's not clear if the instruments were completely sterile before they were used on people, the hospital statement said.
"Even though we believe the risk to be extremely low, out of an abundance of caution, we are offering patients free testing for these viruses," hospital representatives wrote in the statement. Officials from Goshen Hospital sent out notification letters and are offering free blood draws for the 1,182 patients who underwent surgery and who might have been exposed to these infectious diseases.
One of the patients, Linda Gierek, who underwent surgery at the hospital on June 24, filed a class-action lawsuit on Nov. 22 through attorney Walter J. Alvarez; the lawsuit lists several anonymous defendants with addresses at the hospital, according to The Goshen News.
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Both hepatitis B and hepatitis C are liver infections caused by a virus that can be transmitted through blood, as can happen when people share needles. For some people, hepatitis B and C are short-term illnesses and symptoms resolve quickly, but for others, the illnesses become chronic and lead to more-serious health issues, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Symptoms of hepatitis B can include fever, fatigue and yellowing of the eyes, while symptoms of hepatitis C — if patients have any at all — are typically mild and resemble the flu; these can include sore muscles and tiredness.
HIV is a virus that can also be spread through blood and other bodily fluids and that slowly attacks the immune system, destroying the body's defenses such that it can't fight off disease, according to the CDC.
"As with any patient safety concern, we rigorously investigated all aspects around the incident," Dr. Daniel Nafziger, Goshen hospital chief medical officer, said in the statement. "We have put strict policies and additional safety measures in place to ensure it does not happen again."
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Originally published on Live Science.