Spotlight Series on Hepatitis C

National News

Oklahoma: Reuse of Needle at Hospital Infects 50 with Hepatitis C

October 11, 2002

This article is part of The Body PRO's archive. Because it contains information that may no longer be accurate, this article should only be considered a historical document.

More than 50 people at a hospital in Norman, Okla., became infected with hepatitis C after a nurse repeatedly used the same syringe to give drugs, area health officials say. Norman Regional Hospital officials have contacted hundreds of patients treated since 1999 at the clinic where nurse James W. Hill worked to urge them to be tested for blood-borne diseases. Dr. Michael Crutcher, state epidemiologist at the Oklahoma Department of Health, said investigators believe the infections occurred when Hill, a nurse-anesthetist in the hospital's pain treatment clinic, repeatedly used the same syringe and needle to give a sedating medication to patients before medical procedures.

Crutcher said the nurse drew enough medication into a syringe to treat multiple patients seen at the clinic on the same day. Hill then used that syringe with the same needle to inject a small dose of medication into the port of an intravenous line that had been inserted into the arm of each patient.

Since a patient's blood can easily back up into intravenous line ports, nurses and doctors are supposed to use needles only once to avoid disease transmission. Crutcher said he does not believe Hill intended to cause any harm. He said Hill's actions, which came to light last month, resulted from a misunderstanding of proper procedures.

Norman Regional spokesperson Karen Carraway said 300 patients treated at the clinic this year have been tested, and 52 were positive for hepatitis C. The hospital is advising another 500 people treated at the clinic since it began operations in 1999 to seek testing. The hospital also suspended the privileges of the anesthesiologist running the clinic, Dr. Jerry W. Lewis, and barred Hill from working there. Crutcher said the Oklahoma Board of Nursing was also investigating Hill. A number of those infected have filed lawsuits against Hill, Lewis and Norman Regional.

Safer hypodermic needles that can only be used once exist but must be completely emptied in order to work, so it is not clear if they would have prevented Hill's actions. The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists has reminded its members that needle reuse is not acceptable, Crutcher said.

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Adapted from:
New York Times
10.10.02; Barry Meier

This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.


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