A lapse in hepatitis B screening procedures at Seattle’s Virginia Mason Hospital has put some of its dialysis patients at risk.
Seattle’s Virginia Mason Hospital said Friday that a lapse in hepatitis B screening procedures may have put dialysis patients over the past five years at risk for the blood infection.
The hospital is contacting about 650 patients treated in the hospital’s dialysis unit going back to 2011 to urge they be tested for hepatitis B infections. Officials with Public Health — Seattle & King County said the risk of transmission is low.
Hospital officials have yet to determine if any patients already diagnosed with the disease were treated in the three-bed dialysis unit, and said there is no evidence that transmission of hepatitis B occurred there.
Dr. Cyrus Cryst, head of the hospital’s nephrology unit, acknowledged during a news conference that screening inconsistencies represented a lapse in protocol. “But hospital officials have worked to address it,” he said.
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Virginia Mason’s investigation began in May after hospital staff were alerted to screening inconsistencies during a survey by the Joint Commission, a nonprofit organization that accredits more than 21,000 health-care organizations and programs in the U.S.
Records show that the hospital was surveyed May 20 and May 27 and received a contingent accreditation, which indicates the facility failed to address all requirements.
The hospital notified Public Health officials in late May that staff had not been consistently screening patients for hepatitis B as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Through that screening, if a patient is found to have hepatitis B, he or she receives treatment in a private room, away from other patients.
Most chronic kidney-dialysis patients are regularly screened for hepatitis B by their providers and will not need to take any special action, according to Dr. Jeff Duchin, county health officer.
Public Health’s investigation found Virginia Mason had been following other steps to prevent infections, such as disinfection, cleaning and use of protective equipment by staff.
Hepatitis B is transmitted through contact with bodily fluids, but it can also be present on environmental surfaces in the absence of any visible sign of contamination, according to the CDC. Blood-contaminated surfaces that are not routinely or thoroughly cleaned can harbor the virus.
Duchin said Public Health did not find evidence of increased risk for acquiring blood-borne pathogens in the Virginia Mason dialysis unit, which is operated by Northwest Kidney Centers through a contract with the hospital. The center performs about 1,500 dialysis treatments for 260 patients each year.
Because of the control measures that had been in place and the fact that hepatitis B affects 0.3 percent of the population, Duchin said the health agency considers the risk of transmission low.