HIV-Positive Nurse May Have Contaminated Injectable Pain Medication, Texas Hospital Administrators Warn Patients
Administrators of South Texas Regional Medical Center in Jourdanton yesterday sent letters to more than 1,000 former patients urging them to come in for free HIV testing after the hospital discovered that its supply of Demerol, an injectable pain medication, had the "remote possibility" of having been contaminated by HIV, the Houston Chronicle reports. According to a hospital statement, an HIV-positive nurse in the hospital's intensive care and surgical wards had been illegally injecting herself with narcotics from the hospital's drug supply and may have tainted vials of the drug if she "used the same needle to refill Demerol vials with saline to avoid detection of the drug thefts" (Gonzalez, Houston Chronicle, 3/27). Although fewer than 200 patients were treated in the intensive care and surgical units from June 2001 until January, when the nurse worked there, hospital officials said they wanted to "ensure the safety of the public" and extended the offer of free HIV tests to all patients who received Demerol during the seven-month period. According to Dr. F. Blaine Hollinger, a Baylor College of Medicine professor of virology, the chance of being infected with HIV in this manner was "far less" than 0.3% -- the average risk of being infected by a needlestick known to be contaminated with HIV-positive blood -- because no blood-to-blood contact occurred (AP/Dallas Morning News, 3/28). Although there is no known contamination of the drugs, the possibility that HIV could have been transmitted to a patient "is not zero," hospital CEO Allan Smith said (USA Today, 3/28). The nurse, whose name has not been released, was fired on Jan. 4 after admitting to stealing the drugs, and she disclosed her HIV status at that point. Although no charges have been filed, the case has been referred to the state Department of Public Safety and other state and federal agencies for investigation (AP/Dallas Morning News, 3/28).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.