In February, Nevada health officials announced an outbreak of Hepatitis C in their southern Nevada district. This announcement prompted an investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). After learning that six of the new Hep. C patients had undergone treatment at the same medical facility, the Endoscopy Center’s Shadow Lane Facility, they investigated the practices in that clinic. Their findings revealed that in an effort to cut cost the facility reused syringes meant for single usage, which in turn contaminated vials and then patients. This practice exposed patients to Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV. Further investigation of two Endoscopy Center facilities found that fortunately no one exposed had contracted Hepatitis B or HIV, but eight cases of Hepatitis C were linked to this misuse..
Hepatitis C is treatable and/or curable in many if not most cases. The problem is that Hep. C is asymptomatic in most cases and can be for years. For that reason, all patients that had undergone treatment at the Endoscopy Center’s two facilities were notified and urged to get tested. This story received national coverage in large part due to the scary reality of a blood born pathogen outbreak due to negligence and dangerous frugality of health care facilities, which are suppose to be helping people stay healthy.
The Michigan Legislature is acting in response to this scare by proposing House Bill 6381, which would amend the Michigan Public Health Code to make it a felony to reuse any piece of medical equipment intended for a single use. The offense would be punishable by 10 years and/or a fine of up to $50,000. This Bill would dramatically change what is common practice in most health care facilities and the FDA. The FDA along with environmental groups, reprocessing companies, and hospitals say that as long as strict recycling and sterilization standards are met, the reuse of certain single use medical equipment is perfectly safe as well as cost effective and environmentally friendly. In recent years the FDA has stepped up oversight over reprocessing practices, but in the mean time the outbreak in Nevada happened. It is unclear which is more preferable: more oversight and better distinctions as to what equipment can be safely recycled or the proposed route in the Michigan Legislature to ban the practice altogether.
1- Las Vegas Review-Journal “Hepatitis C Battle Intensifying”. http://www.lvrj.com/news/27986474.html
2- HealthLawProf Blog “Recycling “Single Use” Medical Equipment: Common Practice?”. http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/healthlawprof_blog/2008/03/recycling-singl.html