Troops deployed at the Al-Udeid Airbase in Qatar were put at risk of HIV and hepatitis because instruments at the base clinic were not properly sterilized, the US Air Force said. As many as 135 people may have been exposed over the course of 8 years.
Endoscopes used for upper and lower gastrointestinal procedures were “cleaned in a manner inconsistent with sterilization guidelines” between April 2008 and April 2016, the Air Force Surgeon General said Monday. Over that period, the base clinic used those medical tools in 135 procedures.
The risk of infection is “very small, particularly in a deployed environment,” the surgeon general’s spokeswoman, Larine Barr, told the Air Force Times. All members of the US military are required to have a negative HIV test before they deploy, and the Air Force also tests members for hepatitis B.
Even though the risk of infection is small, patients who may have been exposed should get tested, Brigadier General Robert Miller, commander of the Air Force Medical Operations Agency, said in a statement.
“Providing quality health care to our airmen and their families is our top priority,” Miller said. “We apologize to our patients and assure them that appropriate actions have been taken to address and mitigate the causes that led to this problem.”
The USAF has issued a patient safety alert to all of its medical facilities, to make sure they are following proper procedures for inspecting and sterilizing endoscopes and all other reusable medical devices and instruments, Miller’s statement said. Experts are also reviewing current practices to figure out better procedures and ensure the problem does not happen again.
“Our patients put their trust in us when they step into any of our medical facilities,” Miller said. “We take potential risk to patient safety very seriously and are committed to informing those under our care of any increased risk.”
The clinic at Al-Udeid no longer performs endoscopies or colonoscopies. All other procedures are unaffected.
Al-Udeid is home to the forward headquarters of the US Special Operations Central Command (SOCCENT) and the US Air Force’s Central Command (AFCENT), with advanced command and control infrastructure built up over the past 14 years, with Qatari funding.