- "In the past 10 years, over 50,000
health care workers have been infected by HIV and hepatitis due to inadvertent
- CHICAGO, Feb. 2 - In a finding that has wide-ranging public health implications,
researchers reported here Tuesday that they now have molecular proof that
four Australians were accidentally infected with the AIDS virus during
routine outpatient surgery. The reason is almost certainly a failure on
the surgeon's part to properly sterilize instruments between procedures,
- MOLECULAR TESTING proved that the patients,
all of whom had surgery on the same day in Nov. 1989, could only have been
infected by a fifth patient, said Nitin Saksena of the Center for Virus
Research at Westmead Hospital in Westmead, Australia.
- The infections represent the third cluster
in the world in which HIV was transmitted from person to person via surgical
procedure. But in the other two cases - one in Florida and the other in
France - the surgeon is thought to have directly infected his patients,
while in this case, the doctor probably facilitated transmission by using
dirty instruments, Saksena said.
- The research follows the lines of a medical
detective story. According to Saksena, one of the four infected patients
was a teen-age girl who denied engaging in any of the risky behaviors associated
with contracting HIV. When she tested positive for the virus during a routine
blood test in 1992, her doctors were at first stumped.
- "Then they asked if she could have
been exposed to infected blood any other way - through a wound or during
surgery," the Australian researcher said here at the Sixth Conference
on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections. "And it turned out that
the only procedure that involved skin penetration - and exposure of the
patient's blood - was at the dermatology private clinic."
- 'A BREAKDOWN IN CONTROL PROCEDURES'
- The next step, he said, was to pore over
the clinic's medical records, which revealed that 17 patients had had surgery
on the same day as the teenager. Of the 16 that came in for HIV testing,
three - all men, ranging in age from 50 to 70 - also proved to be infected.
- "Obviously, something was wrong,"
Saksena said. "You don't expect one in four patients at a dermatology
clinic to be infected with HIV." They next went to the surgeon, who
tested HIV-negative. While the surgeon said that he followed standard sterilization
control procedures, Saksena said that he feels strongly that "a breakdown
in control procedures is the likely cause." The surgeon was suspended
for two years, but is again practicing.
- Arm yourself against AIDS
- Meanwhile, another of the 17 patients
died from AIDS. Saksena said he is certain that this patient was the original
source of all the infections - "it's the only possible explanation"
- although he did not have a blood sample on which he could perform molecular
- What he did have, however, was blood
samples from the four newly infected patients. And intensive testing of
various parts of their viruses revealed they were indeed the same strain,
"confirming that transmission took place from a single source,"
- Dr. Harold Jaffe, an AIDS researcher
at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, said the
findings point to the need for rigorous adherence to control procedures
such as hand-washing, wearing gloves and sterilization of instruments.
- "We see inadvertent needle-sticks
of blood from infected persons all too often," he said. In the past
10 years, over 50,000 health-care workers have been infected by HIV and
hepatitis due to inadvertent needle-stick injuries. And every year, between
150 to 200 workers die because of needle sticks.