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Reusing plastic syringes: a threat to the health of Maine patients?

Infection control advocates and patients who have contracted hepatitis from contaminated plastic syringes and medicine vials have joined forces in a campaign to warn Maine residents and Americans nationwide about the risks involved in reusing such medical items.

In a recent federal study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it was found that over 60,000 people have been exposed to hepatitis, with at least 400 having been infected by it.

Hepatitis is defined as a viral infection of the liver. The most common form, hepatitis C, afflicts more than three million Americans and is potentially life threatening. It can cause permanent liver damage and may cause no initial symptoms, with the potential of remaining undetected for years.

Hygiene lapses, such as improper handwashing, have received more attention but according to Joe Perz of the CDC, reusing syringes “is something that is obviously wrong”.

“It really represents a breakdown in very basic patient safety. There really is a sense of outrage among many providers and others working in this area when they hear about some of these outbreaks and some of the practices,” Perz said. He blamed the problem on ignorance and lack of oversight.

At times, doctors or nurses injected several patients from single-use medicine vials – to “cut corners,” Perz said, or, some authorities believe, to save money, according to the CDC.

Advocates and the CDC are trying to raise awareness about the problem. The coalition includes infection control specialists and nurse anesthetists.

The campaign is designed to alert doctors, nurses and other medical workers that syringes must only be used once. Patients should be watching for safety precautions and speaking up if they see or suspect a violation.

Copyright 2009 Briggs & Wholey, by Eliza Stoll