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Medical facilities warned not to reuse blood samples equipment

Date Posted: 2008-07-10

Nearly 20% of Okinawa’s hospitals and medical facilities have admitted to reusing blood sampling equipment used to test blood sugars, but virtually all say they haven’t been recycling needles.

The Okinawa Prefecture Welfare Health Section has published a report on the issue, seeking to allay fears equipment being reused could lead to patients contracting hepatitis. A part of the sample gathering instrument, known as the squirt, is often reused from patient to patient, leading the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare to notify all prefectures the practice could lead to hepatitis infections, as has happened in other countries.

Prefecture officials acknowledge that no individuals have been diagnosed as sick after using the squirter, saying the facilities only used needles one time. The instrument and squirter, which hospitals and clinics thought safe, were reused.

Japanese policies have prohibited reuse of the squirters since 2006, but 17.3% of the 927 medical facilities responding to the Prefecture survey admitted they are engaging in the practice. The facilities say they use the same squirt to gather blood samples, because “It’s so easy to check the blood sugar level by this instrument, because we can see the results right away.” Officials answering the survey said “we thought there are no dangers at all.” There are 967 hospitals and facilities in Okinawa Prefecture, and 75% completed the survey.

Some medical facilities are complaining they didn’t know about the rules, saying they didn’t know the ministry had notified every municipality not to use the same instrument from patient to patient. The government contends the rules were sent to all. The report shows 126 medical facilities and 14 municipalities were involved in the risky reuse practice.

The prefecture is now publishing the information on which facilities had used the same instruments on multiple patients, then asking the Health Section be notified about individuals who checked blood sugar levels with the squirter instrument. The Prefecture Safety Counseling Center, (098) 866-1260, is now taking calls from people worried about hepatitis infections.

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