Infection Clusters in Chemo Clinics 'Tip of the Iceberg,' Says CDC

Cheryl Clark, October 27, 2011

Imagine you're a cancer patient like Evelyn McKnight. You're getting your next dose of chemotherapy at an outpatient clinic, or perhaps in a special infusion room attached to your oncologist's office.

You pray the horrible process will kill your disease. You don't expect it will infect you with a life-threatening virus or bacteria.

But just before you arrive, the clinic nurse draws blood from the infusion port of another patient – call him Mr. Jones – to send to the lab. She changes the needle on the syringe, then inserts it into a large, multi-dose saline bag to draw out saline for Mr. Jones' port flush. But in doing so, the negative pressure draws particles of Mr. Jones' blood into the bag.

Now it's your turn. The nurse repeats the process, again drawing from the saline bag to flush the line, the one now entering your bloodstream. 

Unfortunately, Mr. Jones is infected with hepatitis C, and this simple procedural error ends up transmitting his virus to you and every other patient who unknowingly comes in contact with the fluid in that bag.  

As astonishing as this seems, this is what happened to McKnight, an audiologist and wife of a physician in a rural Nebraska town 40 miles northwest of Omaha. It also happened to 98 other cancer patients treated at that doctor's oncology practice.

One by one, four other chemotherapy patients who had blood work weeks and months later tested positive for hepatitis C, prompting the state to launch an investigation.


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