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Antwerp hospital recalls patients over hepatitis B, HIV contamination fears

Illustration picture shows nursing staff taking a blood sample. Patients affected by the contamination have been asked to get a blood test within six months. (BELGA PHOTO DIRK WAEM)
09:39 07/01/2021

Some 110 patients have been recalled by St Vincent's Hospital in Antwerp (GZA group) following an error in disinfecting endoscopy equipment, the newspaper Gazet Van Antwerpen revealed on Wednesday.

The error was detected during a quality check last October. The hospital discovered that mistakes had been made in the maintenance of a device that controls an endoscope disinfection bath. The technician exchanged two tubes when the device was connected, which may have resulted in improper sterilisation. Endoscopy equipment is used, among other things, to screen for colon cancer. Blood is then found on the device, which must then be thoroughly disinfected.

“This is the worst-case scenario," said a spokeswoman for the hospital. "The devices are indeed cleaned after they are used, but we cannot guarantee 100% that no infection has developed."

Patients affected by the error and who were therefore in contact with foreign blood and possibly contaminated by it received the information via a letter sent by the hospital. They have been asked to undergo a free blood test as soon as possible within six months.

They are at risk of intestinal infection and, less likely, hepatitis B. There is also a risk, although extremely limited, of having contracted HIV.

"The mode of transmission of HIV from person to person requires close contact and the simple handling of medical equipment for maintenance is insufficient or renders the risk of transmission almost zero," reassured Kristiaan Deckers, medical director of the GZA group which runs St Vincent's Hospital. “For hepatitis B, we know in advance that patients suffer from it and we take additional precautionary measures. Therefore, the risk of contamination is very low."

Although the risk is minimal, the hospital wants to take responsibility but is also looking into taking legal action against those responsible. "Our legal department is currently looking into the matter," the spokeswoman said.

Written by Nick Amies