MONTREAL — About four months ago, 147 recipients of bariatric surgery at the Lachine Hospital got a shock in the form of a registered letter.
The note informed them they should get blood tests done as soon as possible — there was a chance they contracted a viral infection from equipment used in the surgery that hadn’t been properly cleaned.
“We’re talking about a very small number of people who had a very specific kind of surgery,” said Ian Popple, a spokesperson for the McGill University Health Centre, the umbrella group that administrates the hospital.
Popple said that cleaning procedures at the hospital had been “suboptimal” and that “we decided to correct that, and in the best interests of the patients, send out a letter informing them that there is a small risk associated with their surgery and ask them to come in for blood tests.”
Popple said about 90 per cent of the patients had blood tests come back with no evidence of an infection. However, another 10 per cent have not finished testing. While Popple did suggest that the risk was “low,” he conceded that it is within the realm of possibility that HIV or forms of hepatitis could have been transmitted.
Surgeons use a battery of equipment for operations like bariatric surgery, and protocols for cleaning such equipment can be extremely complex.
“If it’s not properly decontaminated. then, yes, the virus can stay on that equipment,” said Fernanda Cordeiro, an infection specialist with the Jewish General Hospital.
“It may live for a few hours, it may live for a few days.”
It is unclear how the problem was discovered or how it was allowed to creep into the hospital’s procedures, which involves the proper cleaning of an instrument known as a liver retractor. This effectively moves the liver aside while the body cavity is open to allow surgeons access to the stomach.
Patients undergo bariatric surgery to make their stomachs smaller in an effort to combat obesity. The patients who received letters had surgery from 2012 to 2014, and letters went out in late March.
Patients advocates were outraged at the situation.
“This is not a car defect recall,” said Paul Brunet, a patients’ advocate.
“We’re talking about people being potentially affected by a very important illness.”