Hospital: Colon equipment not sterile

January 15, 2003 12:00 am

By JASON ECK

Sonora Community Hospital has sent letters to patients who underwent colonoscopies with equipment that wasn't properly cleaned, offering blood tests to screen them for disease.

Hospital officials said the three colonoscopes in question were sterilized between uses, but a small part of the instruments might not have been properly disinfected.

Not all patients were tested using the scopes in question, Sonora Community spokesman Craig Wilcox said, because the hospital has 10 scopes.

But hospital officials sent letters to about 2,500 patients who received colon examinations during the past two years, including about 1,000 the hospital identified as being at risk.

All the colonoscope patients are being offered free blood tests to find out if they contracted any diseases and to ease people's minds. The tests will check for diseases such as Hepatitis B and C and HIV, which Wilcox said are "very remote" possibilities.

After consulting with doctors and the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hospital officials believe the "risk of infection to patients is extremely low," said a statement from Nikki Allen, a registered nurse and director of patient care at Sonora Community Hospital.

"Nevertheless, in the interest of open communication and owing to the historical trust relationship we have with our patients, we decided to notify both patients who may have been affected as well as those who have had colonoscopic procedures at the hospital but who are not affected (because the equipment in question was not used in their procedure)."

"The risk of spreading anything is basically negligible, the experts told us," Wilcox said.

Letters went out last week to patients who underwent colonoscopies between early 2001 and November 2002, Wilcox said.

Hospital officials learned recently in reviewing procedures in its gastrointestinal lab that further cleaning was needed on three of the hospital's colonoscopes, Wilcox said.

In a letter to patients, officials explained that an unused water channel on the colonoscope was not flushed with a disinfectant.