The Centers for Disease Control is sounding the alarm about a dangerous healthcare error responsible for at least 19 known infection outbreaks.
The practice of reusing single-dose vials is spreading life-threatening bacterial, fungal and viral infections.
All of the outbreaks have involved outpatient settings like pain clinics, but the risk is just as real about anywhere you receive an injection from a single-dose vial.
The safe way to administer a single-dose vial of medication is by using the needle or syringe on one patient only.
"The assumption is, you're going to open it, pull out medicine and be done," says Michael Bell, deputy director of the Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Unlike multi-use vials which are intended for multiple patients, single-dose vials do not contain antimicrobial preservatives.
Once a single-dose vial has been used on one patient, it should never be used again.
"When you go in with a needle, you can actually push bacteria into the sterile medication," Bell explains.
This is how life-threatening infections like hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV), as well as bacterial infections including Staphylococcus aureus, known as Staph, have spread to unsuspecting patients.
This may cause you to wonder, why would a medication vial intended for use on one person be reused?
America Now took this question to Steve Jarrett who is the medication safety officer at Carolinas Healthcare System in Charlotte, NC.
Jarrett says one reason for reusing single-dose vials is due to prescription drug shortages.
"As physician practices and hospitals try to stretch the medication they have to treat their patients, there are times where a single-dose vial has been used for more than one dose," Jarrett says.
The practice of reusing a single-dose vial is also common when the size of the patient, for example a small child, doesn't require all of the medication contained in a single-dose vial.
Discarding the leftovers may be expensive, but so are the costs associated with outbreaks or lawsuits.
Combining or splitting medication must follow strict pharmacy guidelines, and it must be done in a sterile setting.
So, how can a patient protect themselves and know they're safe if they are receiving medication via a needle or syringe?
Bell says every patient should ask questions about their doctor's safety practices before arriving at a healthcare facility and well before any injection is administered.
"Your doctors and nurses want to do the right thing, but reminders never hurt," and Bell adds, "You can ask nicely and they won't get upset. If they do, you should probably find another doctor!"
Jarrett agrees that patients simply need to ask questions to the medical staff like – What are you doing to keep me safe?
Experts say you shouldn't be afraid to ask questions when it comes to your medical care.
"It's not wrong to say, upfront, I have a strong need to see you fill the syringe in front of me and see you break open a fresh packet," Bell says.
If you are too sick or shy to ask these questions, Bell recommends you ask a family member or friend to go with you on your next appointment.
"It's much easier for me to ask questions on behalf of my friend or family member than to do it myself," Bell says.
Tracking the source of an infection from a single-dose vial that was inappropriately administered to multiple patients can be nearly impossible for health officials to do weeks or months later.
This is why the CDC recommends if your injection site becomes unusually inflamed, red or painful, you should seek medical care immediately.
An infection at the sight of an injection could indicate contamination resulting from a vial that was inappropriately used on subsequent patients. If this happens to you, be sure to report the incident to your local health department.
Ultimately, it is critical for you to add your own dose of precaution by asking questions and taking charge of your care upfront.
The following information is from Steve Jarrett, a medication safety officer at Carolinas Healthcare System in Charlotte, NC.
Michael Bell is the deputy director of the Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.
The following information is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in an online article entitled "Protect Patients Against Preventable Harm from Improper Use of Single-Dose/Single-Use Vials" (Source: http://www.cdc.gov/injectionsafety/cdcposition-singleusevial.html).
The following information is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website devoted to the "One Needle, One Syringe, Only One Time" public health campaign (Source: http://www.oneandonlycampaign.org/about/the-campaign).
The following information is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in an online article entitled "FAQs for Patients" (Source: http://www.cdc.gov/injectionsafety/patients/patient_faqs.html).
The following information is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in an online article entitled "Invasive Staphylococcus aureus Infections Associated with Pain Injections and Reuse of Single-Dose Vials – Arizona and Delaware, 2012" (Source: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6127a1.htm?s_cid=mm6127a1_w).
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