This Washington Children's Hospital Warns Thousands Of Families Of Possible HIV Exposure Due To Unspecified Sterilization Error

Dawn Papple

A children's hospital in Washington has issued a warning to about 12,000 families that children may have inadvertently been exposed to HIV or hepatitis, and that these potentially exposed patients need to get tested for the bloodborne pathogens. The hospital in the state of Washington says that mandated safety procedures for sterilizing surgical instruments were not always followed at Seattle Children's Hospital's Bellevue Clinic and Surgery Center.

"As a result, some patients who had a surgical procedure at Bellevue Clinic may need to be tested for hepatitis B and C, as well as HIV," the statement from the Washington hospital stated in notifications that were sent out to the families of the 12,000 patients treated at the Bellevue surgery center in the past five years.

"What you're hearing... is an extreme level of caution," Seattle Children's hospital's CEO Jeff Sperring told the media. "We're not aware of any patients (infected) but we're not going to take chances."

"It's very scary. I mean, these are our kids," Yvonne McPherson told KIRO-TV after learning her child needs to be tested for HIV and hepatitis. "This is not something to mess around with."

The risk is not considered to be significant, according to the hospital administration, but families are still very concerned that their children might have been exposed to HIV or hepatitis B or C.

"This should not be something that happens at Children's Hospital," McPherson added about the possible exposure to HIV and hepatitis. "It's very scary."

Seattle Children's hospital has offered free testing to all of the patients who could have been exposed from the improper sanitation procedures that were used at the Washington surgery clinic. The reason for the potential exposure is still allegedly under investigation, and for now, all of the equipment that might have harbored the bloodborne pathogens has been taken out of service. Meanwhile, the hospital spokeswoman, according to KIRO-TV, is not elaborating on what specific equipment was involved in this terrible sanitation mistake.

During the press conference, the doctors speaking on behalf of the Washington hospital did state that the autoclaves were still functioning properly, and added that it's highly unlikely that the equipment actually ever had HIV exposure.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident to U.S. hospitals. In 2010, a Missouri VA hospital was in hot water after admitting that it may have exposed over 1,800 U.S. veterans to the same life-threatening diseases. In that situation, John Cochran VA Medical Center in St. Louis mailed letters to veterans telling them they could contract hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV after simply getting dental work done at the medical center. That same year, Palomar Hospital in San Diego sent certified letters to 3,400 patients who may have been exposed to pathogens after undergoing procedures there, according to CNN.

The CDC statistics reveal that in 2001, over 700,000 patients suffered from at least some type of hospital-acquired infection, and about 75,000 of those patients died with these infections at the hospital during their hospitalizations. According to CBS in 2014, one in 25 patients actually end up with at least on type infection acquired from hospital visits, and usually these infections are the result of unhygienic practices, though these infections are rarely HIV infections.

The Seattle Children's hospital in Washington provided this phone number for anyone concerned about accidental exposure to HIV or hepatitis: 1-855-855-8460.

[Photo via Pixabay]