Veterans Affairs apologizes to dental patients for unsterilized instruments

More problems are surfacing for veterans seeking treatment in Hawaii. This time, the finger points to the Tripler Army Medical Center.

In one case, the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs says 20 patients may have been exposed to viruses like Hepatitis because dental instruments were not sterilized. In another case, eight patients who saw a dermatologist at Tripler were also worked on with instruments that were not sterilized.

The VA says it is focusing on those 20 patients who sought treatment at Spark M. Matsunaga VA Medical Center’s dental clinic on May 23 and May 27. The VA says while the dental instruments were clean, its own monitors revealed that the instruments were not sterilized.

The VA’s normal procedure is to send those instruments next door to Tripler Army Medical Center for sterilization.

A Tripler spokesperson says an investigation revealed “that standard sterilization procedures were not followed on a single load of dental and dermatology equipment.”

For those 20 dental patients, the VA said, “We sincerely apologize to our veterans who may have been affected by this incident.”

While Tripler insists the potential risk to all affected patients is low, the patients have been contacted and will be monitored to check for any potential exposure to viruses such as Hepatitis B and C as well as HIV.

Dr. Kalani Brady of the University of Hawaii’s John A. Burns School of Medicine said dental patients exposed to instruments that are not sterilized may have reason to be concerned.

“If you don’t (sterilize) then you have the risk, especially in dental work where you are working with the gums,” said Brady. “Of course there is a little bleeding, so you have exposure to blood vessels from the gums and you can be exposed to those three viruses.”

KHON2 observed the sterilization process at a local dental office and found that the office went through several steps.

First, they scrubbed the instruments, then placed them into an ultrasonic machine to rid the instruments of debris. Next, the instruments were blown dry, placed in a bag and put into an autoclave. The machine steamed them clean for 45 minutes at a temperature of more than 270 degrees.

Dr. Brady says when it comes to HIV, patients who are concerned need to get tested three months out to check for any possible exposure to the virus.

Tripler says it has conducted refresher training and ordered additional procedural reviews to prevent any more problems with instrument sterilization in the future.

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