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A simple procedure of taking a blood sample turned into a horror story at Huslab’s laboratory in Helsinki’s Kamppi on Wednesday morning, when the lab technician taking the sample reported of mistakenly using dirty needles, which had pierced the skin already on Tuesday. In total, 19 patients were exposed to a risk of HIV and both: hepatitis B and C.
However, experts have been quick to belittle the risk of catching a disease.
“The risk for catching hepatitis C is 0 in practice but hepatitis B can stay in an infected needle for a longer time. And the world does not know an example of HIV transmitting from a needle that has stood (been exposed to air) this long,” Asko Järvinen, the chief physician from the infectious diseases department at HUS, said in an interview for MTV.
According to Piia Aarnisalo, the managing director at Huslab, all of the exposed patients have been contacted, and they have been informed of the follow-up examinations for the next six months to ensure that any of the blood transmitted diseases have not passed from the needle to the patient. The reactions have varied from understanding to tears.
“At first came the sincere shock, that this was like from a movie and then it hit me, that this is not fun for real,” said one of the exposed patients, Laura Kyntölä, in a talk show Enbuske, Veltola & Salminen.
An anonymous source with a long career in the health sector found it hard to understand how used needles could be mixed with new. “I have never seen or been in a situation, where used needles would be lying around after the use,” the source said to me. “The needles should be automatically disposed in the container of medical sharps.”
Järvinen said to YLE News that in this particular case the needles that were reused “were a little larger and did not fit into the disposal container and were placed in a cup.”
The needles in question, according to Aarnisalo, were so-called safety needles.
However, most of the safety needles have a plastic sheath that needs to be removed first. After use another sheath is placed on top of the needle to protect the technician of stinging oneself.
“After the sheath is placed on top of the needle, it sits so tight that it is practically impossible to remove,” the anonymous source said to me.
In addition, the unused safety needles, like the traditional ones, are sealed in individual plastic packages.
According to Aarnisalo, the cup or the so-called “temporary container” has now been removed from use and the procedure has been changed for improved safety.
The lab technician is now on leave for “an indefinite period of time.”
The National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health, Valvira, is currently content with Huslab starting its own internal investigations to clarify the course of events, and has decided to not press criminal charges.
At least for now.