Contaminated Instrument Puts 150 Israelis at Risk of Contracting HIV

Patients of Petah Tikva hospital summoned after equipment used for endoscopy on HIV patient did not undergo proper disinfection.

About 150 ENT (ear, nose and throat ) hospital patients were summoned for a blood test on Sunday amid fears that they were exposed to the HIV virus while being treated in the ward.

A recent examination in Beilinson Hospital, Rabin Medical Center, Petah Tikva revealed that an endoscope was not properly disinfected according to the guidelines listed by the Health Ministry.

After the instrument in question was used a month ago to treat an AIDS patient, the hospital decided to summon all those who had undergone treatment with the same endoscope in order to ensure that they did not contract the virus.

The hospital stated that it was only recently revealed that the patient had contracted HIV three months ago. "It is very unlikely that patients who were treated with the instrument will contract HIV," said the hospital's acting CEO, Dr. Boaz Tadmor. "There is no reason for the patients to change anything in their daily routine, but in order to be absolutely certain, the hospital decided to take extra steps and summon them for a check-up, a decision reached after consultation with experts in the field and in coordination with the Health Ministry. We'll explain to the patients that in our opinion they have nothing to worry about, but that we'll still view the risks with all due seriousness," Tadmor said, adding that the hospital would assume responsibility for its actions and take blood samples from patients to ensure there was no infection by the endoscope.

The hospital dispatched messengers on Sunday with letters for each of the 150 patients who could be at risk, calling them to come and be checked. Tadmor told Haaretz that the endoscope that wasn't properly disinfected was used to detect tumors in patients suffering from headaches, and who might suffer from sinusitis. "An endoscope is a complex instrument with varying levels of risks, depending on the size of the instrument, its hollow areas and the possible contact with the patient's blood during the examination," Tadmor said.

Medical literature does not include any known cases of HIV contracted following the use of endoscopes, and there are few known cases of Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C infections contracted via endoscopes. In one of these cases, several patients contracted the Hepatitis C virus in January 2008, in south Nevada, after being checked with a endoscope that wasn't disinfected properly.

A Beilinson Hospital spokesperson said that "the event was reported and is being monitored by the Health Ministry. Proper disinfection processes are now being carried out in the ENT unit."

The Health Ministry also released a statement echoing Tadmor's belief that there was little chance of contracting the virus through the instrument, and promising that the hospital would "draw all necessary conclusions from the event."

In response, head of the Israel AIDS Task Force Yonatan Karni said that the "Health Ministry's procedures compel it to treat each patient as though he carried the infectious virus," adding that the hospital's infringements of the Health Ministry's procedures are no worse than the disproportionate fear in all relating to HIV contraction that comes as a result of the infringement."

In January 2007, a senior heart surgeon in Ichilov Hospital left his post after realizing he contracted HIV several years earlier, fearing he might have infected patients. The Health Ministry then summoned for check-ups some 1,500 patients operated by the surgeon in the preceding six years, but none had contracted the virus. Nine months later, the surgeon returned to his post.

David Bachar