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Blood-screening misuse puts 300 St. Paul residents at risk of infection

  • Article by: Jeremy Olson
  • Star Tribune
  • May 30, 2014 - 5:45 AM

The University of Minnesota is seeking 300 current and former residents of the Skyline high-rise apartment in St. Paul who might have been exposed to infectious diseases due to misuse of blood monitoring equipment at charitable screening events.

University medical students and others have conducted blood-sugar screenings at the complex since 2010 as part of the SHARE outreach program, which provides basic health services to the many immigrant and low-income residents there.

Trouble is, the volunteers were reusing blood monitoring finger-prick devices on multiple patients; they were designed for repeated use only by the same patient, the U reported Thursday. “Intentions were good,” said U spokesman Brian Lucas. “It just wasn’t done right.”

Before each blood sample, the “lancet” needles that came in contact with the patient’s skin were replaced, and the multiuse portions of the devices were cleaned in alcohol. But this still violated infectious disease protocols by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Lucas said.

A former SHARE volunteer learned of the violation recently and informed the U, which wants to test the current and former residents for infectious diseases that could have been transmitted by the reused devices.

None of the recipients of the blood sugar testing at Skyline are known to have infectious diseases that could have been transmitted, though.

“While the risk for infection is low, we know that every possible exposure to infectious disease transmitted via blood must be taken seriously,” said Dr. Michael Osterholm, a U infectious disease expert. “Our goal is to make sure that if any one has been infected, they are identified and provided appropriate medical care.”

Blood sugar testing at the apartment complex has been suspended, and volunteers will be trained in proper infection control procedures.

Reuse of contaminated devices and needles has been known to spread HIV, hepatitis B or C and other infectious agents. A CDC study noted 33 outbreaks in non-hospital health care settings from 1998 to 2008 that resulted in 448 hepatitis transmissions.

Question-and-answer sheets in multiple languages are being distributed this week to Skyline residents, including many Somali and Ethiopian residents. Initial testing for infectious diseases will take place from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 7 at the HealthPartners Center for International Health in St. Paul.

 

Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744

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