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Infection risk ‘under control’ in Quebec, hospitals confirm

The Hotel Dieu Hospital is shown Monday, June 3, 2013 in Levis, Que. About 1,000 patients will need to be screened for HIV and hepatitis after sterilization problems at Quebec City-area medical establishments.

Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The alarm raised by a hospital in Lévis over the possible HIV, hepatitis B and C infections of 1,000 patients due to improper sterilization of equipment was contained to the Quebec City region and has not spread elsewhere.

Four other hospitals in the province, which used the same type of specialized endoscopic equipment as Hotel-Dieu hospital in Lévis, just south of Quebec City, confirmed no potential infections.

Quebec's Health Minister Réjean Hébert breathed a huge sigh of relief when he heard the news on Tuesday afternoon.

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"The situation is under control," he said. "Hotel-Dieu did not follow proper sterilization protocol but the situation has been remedied."

The other hospitals, including the Montreal Jewish hospital, Notre-Dame and St-Luc hospitals in Montreal as well as the University of Sherbrooke Hospital Centre, were ordered to examine their sterilization protocols to identify potential infections. All hospitals reported that, unlike Hotel-Dieu in Lévis, they had followed the proper sterilization procedure.

Mr. Hébert made it clear that the infections weren't caused by faulty equipment but rather a misunderstanding between the manufacturer and the hospital over how to sterilize the various parts of the endoscopic equipment used primarily for examinations of patients' digestive systems.

Hotel-Dieu administrators revealed on Monday that 1,000 patients could have been affected after it was discovered that the equipment had not been properly disinfected since it was purchased in 2005.

"Hotel-Dieu assumes full responsibility," Mr. Hébert said, refusing to pinpoint any possible negligence on the part of hospital administrators. "The manufacturers' directives were not properly followed by Hotel-Dieu. But the hospital acted with diligence by immediately informing the population."

Hospital officials insisted the risk of infection was minimal but they preferred to be on the safe side by contacting every patient who had come into contact with the endoscopic equipment. The patients will be contacted by registered mail and urged to report to the hospital as soon as possible for screening for potential infections.

"The risks of infections are minimal. There is no certainty that we will even find one case of contamination," Mr. Hébert insisted. "Hotel-Dieu was the only hospital that reported a problem …We will remind hospitals to follow proper protocol for all medical equipment they use."

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About 70 per cent of the patients with a possible infection were from the Quebec City-Lévis area; the rest were from other regions of the province.

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About the Author
Quebec City political correspondent

Rhéal Séguin is a journalist and political scientist. Born and educated in southern Ontario, he completed his undergraduate degree in political science at York University and a master's degree in political science at the Université du Québec à Montréal.Rhéal has practised journalism since 1978, first with Radio-Canada in radio and television and then with CBC Radio. More

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