updated 2/5/2009 4:10:31 PM ET 2009-02-05T21:10:31

Patients who got hepatitis from contaminated syringes and medicine vials are joining infection control advocates to warn Americans about a problem they say is more common than people think.

  1. Don't miss these Health stories
    1. Splash News
      More women opting for preventive mastectomy - but should they be?

      Rates of women who are opting for preventive mastectomies, such as Angeline Jolie, have increased by an estimated 50 percent in recent years, experts say. But many doctors are puzzled because the operation doesn't carry a 100 percent guarantee, it's major surgery -- and women have other options, from a once-a-day pill to careful monitoring.

    2. Larry Page's damaged vocal cords: Treatment comes with trade-offs
    3. Report questioning salt guidelines riles heart experts
    4. CDC: 2012 was deadliest year for West Nile in US
    5. What stresses moms most? Themselves, survey says

A recent federal report suggests they are right.

It found more than 60,000 people were exposed to hepatitis, and at least 400 people were infected with it in 33 U.S. outbreaks linked with blatant safety violations.

Many involved reuse of syringes: Health workers likely thought they were being safe by discarding the syringes' used needles and snapping on sterile ones. They were apparently unaware that the plastic barrel part of a syringe can become contaminated, too. Reusing it even with a fresh needle also can contaminate the medicine vial.

The number of reported infections isn't large for the time period, 1998 to 2008. But authorities believe many more cases go unreported, and the lack of care and cleanliness that went on in medical clinics and doctors' offices is disturbing. The most publicized cases occurred in Nevada, Nebraska and New York; one of the most recent outbreaks was in Illinois.

But they have happened in other states and in hospitals, too. The report says the cases it highlights "probably represent a much wider problem."

Some hygiene lapses among medical workers have received more attention, including inadequate hand-washing. But researcher Joseph Perz of the Centers for Disease and Prevention said that syringe reuse "is something that's obviously wrong."

Perz co-authored the report, which appeared in the Jan. 6 edition of Annals of Internal Medicine.

Hepatitis is a viral infection of the liver. The most common, form, hepatitis C, afflicts more than 3 million Americans, is potentially life-threatening and can cause permanent liver damage. It may cause no initial symptoms and can go undetected for years.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments