Medical waste can be extremely dangerous to handle not only because the waste may be infected, but also because of “sharps.” The medical term refers to any device with sharp points or edges that can puncture or cut skin, such as needles, syringes, or lancets. Improper sharps management protocols can lead to serious risks, which may go under-reported or even unreported. Between 2008 and 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 35 hepatitis outbreaks — not incidences, but full-scale outbreaks — which may have been caused by sharps.
It’s because sharps are so dangerous that the Colorado-based Swedish Medical Center is asking around 2,900 patients to undergo “free and confidential” tests for HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C after revealing that a former surgical technician allegedly replaced a syringe with an infected one.
“We deeply regret that one of our former employees may have put patients at risk, and are sorry for any uncertainty or anxiety this may cause,” said Richard A. Hammett, the Swedish Medical Center’s president and CEO, in a written statement.
“Please know our first concern is the health, care, safety and privacy of our patients and we are working diligently to look after the well-being of the patients who may have been affected by the wrongful actions of this individual.”
Rocky Allen, a 28-year-old surgical technologist, switched out a surgical patient’s intravenous narcotic medicine to inject himself, and then may have put the needle back into circulation. Because he worked in the hospital’s operating rooms from August 17 to January 22, he may have infected thousands of patients, which is why the Swedish Medical Center isn’t taking chances.
However, hospital officials have not specified how Allen might have infected patients, and won’t reveal whether the former technician was infected himself.