By BILL POOVEY / May 9, 4:46 PM EDT
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (AP) — Former patients who tested positive for HIV or hepatitis will not be able to show they were infected by tainted equipment at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals, a top doctor for the agency said Friday.
Dr. Jim Bagian, the VA’s chief patient safety officer, said the patients won’t be able to prove they were even exposed to endoscopic equipment that wasn’t properly sterilized. The equipment is used for colonoscopies and ear, nose and throat procedures. It was discovered in December that equipment was either not properly cleaned or set up.
Five patients have tested positive for HIV and 33 have tested positive for hepatitis since February, when the VA started notifying more than 11,000 people treated at three VA medical centers to get follow-up blood checks because they could have been exposed to infectious body fluids. The hospitals are in Miami, Murfreesboro, Tenn., and Augusta, Ga.
The blood tests are continuing. The agency has stressed that the positive results for the diseases may not have come from the VA’s problems with dirty equipment.
“At this point I don’t think we’ll ever know” how the patients were infected, Bagian said. Some veterans and members of Congress want more explanation than that.
“Some of them did not have these infections before their colonoscopies,” said Mike Sheppard, a Nashville lawyer representing some former VA patients who tested positive for HIV and hepatitis.
Sheppard said the only way to find out how the infections were contracted is by examining all medical records – all of which are in the hands of the VA.