Tough wait for 270 at risk of HIV

THIRTY-THREE patients face an anxious wait for blood test results after a breakdown in the instrument sterilisation procedure at Bundaberg Hospital’s dental clinic.

A further 274 people have been contacted and offered testing after it was revealed the instruments had not been subjected to the final steam sterilisation process on November 6.

Dr David Sowden, Sunshine Coast-Wide Bay Health Service District infectious disease physician, said the instruments had, however, been cleaned using warm water and detergent, as well as with an ultra-sonic cleaner before being dried and repackaged.

The potentially contaminated instruments remained in circulation for another week, until November 13.

Mother Michelle Kendall was called yesterday afternoon and informed she may have come in contact with potentially contaminated instruments and would need to be tested for hepatitis B and C as well as HIV.

“I’m pretty devastated. I’ve got five children and to be told something like this — I just don’t know what to do,” she said.

Ms Kendall had attended the clinic to have a tooth pulled last Tuesday.

Among the other patients tested was a 16-year-old Bargara girl.

The girl, who wishes to remain anonymous while she waited for her test results, said she received a call on Saturday telling she would need to attend the hospital for blood testing.

“I was yelling and screaming and crying after they called,” she said.

The woman went in for blood tests on Sunday and has to wait until Thursday for her results.

The woman was told when she went in for testing the mix-up was caused by “human error”.

Dr Sowden said if a blood-borne virus was present at the onset of cleaning, the risk of contracting hepatitis B was very low and the risk for hepatitis C and HIV was extremely low.

“It is important to reiterate that the risk of any patient becoming infected with a blood borne virus as a result of this incident is very small,” he said.

Dr Sowden said there were 33 patients on whom the instruments had been used prior to the sterilisation mix-up being discovered and, of those patients, 31 had been contacted for testing.

Queensland Health is trying to contact the remaining two patients urgently.

A further 274 patients who were treated during the period the potentially contaminated instruments were in circulation were called and offered testing.

Dr Sowden said only two patients had been identified as potentially coming into contact with the affected instruments.

Shadow Minister for Health Mark McArdle said the situation was “shocking”.

“Does this mean that every time you walk into a Queensland Health dental clinic you risk your life?” he said.

Mr McArdle said the situation had to be thoroughly looked into.

“This is a matter which should not be investigated by Queensland Health. It must be independent,” he said.

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