VA hospital warns of possible infection from prostate biopsy

Sunday, May 28, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:05 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Potentially unsanitary equipment used during prostate biopsies has prompted the Veterans Administration to encourage patients treated at VA hospitals to be tested for possible infections.

In Columbia, Truman Veterans Hospital sent letters to 263 patients encouraging them to return to the hospital to be tested for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV. The letters were sent to patients who received prostate biopsies between January 2005 and early 2006.

Hospital spokesman Stephen Gaither said another VA medical center recently realized that there was a possibility for infection with a certain piece of equipment used for the exams.

“Once they realized there could be a problem at one VA hospital, they realized any center that has used the equipment could have people at risk,” Gaither said.

The Veterans Administration informed 21 of its centers to send letters to patients who received prostate biopsies using the B-K biopsy transducer.

The transducer, manufactured by B-K Medical Systems Inc., had no specific guidelines in its instruction booklet for how to disinfect the device, and VA officials worried that repeated use could transmit diseases from patient to patient, Gaither said. National VA inspectors said that while the equipment was being cleaned and disinfected after each procedure, it was not always scrubbed with a brush, and unscrubbed equipment could still carry the risk of infection.

In Columbia, Gaither said hospital staff were scrubbing the equipment, but the alcohol solution they were using to soak the equipment for four minutes was not as effective as another preferred solution, which is now being used. Gaither did not specify the nature of the new solution.

B-K Medical Systems could not be reached for comment.

“I’d like to stress that there is a very remote possibility of infection,” Gaither said. “We want to err on the side of caution, though, by doing follow-up tests.”

The hospital sent letters to patients explaining the problem and the risks for infection and encouraged them to make appointments for blood tests, Gaither said.

The letter stated that there is no evidence that any patient who had a prostate biopsy with the equipment in question has acquired an infection during the procedure.

“The decision to offer you testing has been made in consultation with the manufacturer of the prostate biopsy device, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration,” said the letter, written by Marie Weldon, the hospital’s acting director.

The hospital is testing for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV because those are the diseases most likely to have been transmitted, said Gaither.

The letter also stated that patients would not need additional biopsies because the results of the tests had been accurate and that the hospital was taking steps to ensure no similar situation occurs.

Although Gaither said he does not anticipate any infections from the biopsies, if cases are discovered, the VA will start treatment immediately.

“We treat people with those kinds of infections already, so we will just follow usual treatment procedures,” he said.

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