3,000 Vets Face HIV Risk After Unsterile Procedure

A Veterans Affairs hospital here has notified thousands of patients that their colonoscopies were performed with improperly sterilized equipment, officials said Monday.

The hospital urged about 3,260 patients who had colonoscopies between May 2004 and March 12 of this year to get tests for HIV, hepatitis and other diseases.

The VA insisted the risk of infection was minimal, saying the tubing that was improperly cleaned didn't make contact with patients.

It was the second recent announcement of errors during colonoscopies at VA facilities.

"The very notion that veterans have to contemplate this new reality now before them and visit special care clinics to undergo blood testing is stomach-turning," U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Fla., said in a letter Monday to the VA's inspector general. "This information is shocking."

Meek urged a door-to-door campaign to alert veterans of the error.

"Although there is minimal risk, we feel that even a slight risk is unacceptable to the veterans we care for," said Susan Ward, a spokeswoman for the VA in Miami.

Last month, 6,378 patients at a clinic in Murfreesboro, Tenn., were told they may have been exposed to infectious body fluids during colonoscopies.

The VA said 1,800 veterans treated at an ear, nose and throat clinic in Augusta, Ga., were also alerted they could have been exposed to an infection due to improper disinfection of an instrument, though officials said the risk was "extremely small."

The VA hasn't said whether it expects more facilities to announce similar problems, though Meek cautioned the number of affected people "could quickly expand to include a much larger pool of people."

"That, somehow, these standard protocols were not followed will undoubtedly leave our veterans with serious misgivings about our VA system," he said.