Up to 135 patients who underwent surgical procedures at the clinic at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar over an eight-year period may have been infected with a variety of blood-borne diseases – including HIV and Hepatitis C – according to the Air Force Surgeon General.
Between April 2008 and April 2016, the Air Force Medical Service found that endoscopes used during gastrointestinal procedures “were cleaned in a manner inconsistent with sterilization guidelines,” according to a report.
An endoscope is an instrument that can be inserted into the body to gain an internal view. Both HIV and Hepatitis C are viruses that can be transmitted through blood.
The Air Force Medical Service is now reaching out to all suspected patients who may have been exposed as a result, and is providing testing and counseling resources to anyone involved.
The spokeswoman for the surgeon general, Larine Barr, said that the risk of infection was small, especially since all troops are required to have a negative HIV and Hepatitis B test before deploying.
“[The chances are] very small, particularly in a deployed environment,” she said.
Although the risk is considered small, commander of the Air Force Medical Operations Agency, Brig. Gen. Robert Miller, suggested that service members who are contacted and notified that they may have been exposed to one of the blood-borne agents should get immediate testing to make sure.
“Providing quality health care to our airmen and their families is our top priority,” Miller said in a press release. “We apologize to our patients and assure them that appropriate actions have been taken to address and mitigate the causes that led to this problem.”
Following these drastic revelations, the Air Force has issued a service-wide patient safety alert to ensure that all medical facilities are following stringent guidelines for cleaning, decontaminating and sterilizing endoscopes, as well as anything else that can be considered reusable.