Nearly 450 patients at a Massachusetts hospital were recently warned that they were potentially exposed to HIV and hepatitis, according to a class-action lawsuit filed in the state.
Massachusetts Superior Court records show Keches Law Group filed a lawsuit against Mass General Brigham, Salem Hospital and 10 hospital employees on behalf of Melinda Cashman, who the suit says was exposed to the infections .
Cashman, of Amesbury, Massachusetts, is among hundreds of endoscopy patients exposed to HIV or hepatitis B or C between June 2021 and April 2023, according to an eight-page complaint filed Friday.
Endoscopy is a procedure that involves inserting a flexible tube with a light and camera into a person’s body, allowing doctors to examine the inside of the body to detect disease.
The suit, which cites negligence by the hospital and its employees, goes on to claim that Cashman suffered permanent injury, anxiety, emotional distress and a diminished quality of life due to the reported exposure .
Hospital: “extremely low” risk
But the risk of infection “is extremely low,” the hospital told The Associated Press.
“The safety of our patients is our top priority and we have undertaken several corrective actions in response to this event,” Salem Hospital said in a statement to the AP.
“We sincerely apologize to those who have been impacted and remain committed to providing high-quality, compassionate healthcare to our community. »
The hospital could not immediately be reached by USA TODAY.
“A life-changing condition”
Cashman and hundreds of other patients “had to face the possibility of a life-changing illness due to the hospital’s negligence,” attorney Jonathan Sweet, of the Keches Law Group, said in a press release published on the firm’s website.
“Our client deserves someone to take responsibility for his years of neglect,” Sweet said. “We want the victims of this tragedy to know that we are fighting for them and that the people who wronged them must be held accountable.”
According to the release, on Nov. 3, Cashman said she received a letter from Salem Hospital informing her “she may have been exposed to a virus.”
The lawsuit goes on to say Cashman also required additional testing after learning what happened when she was a patient during that time.
The suit requests a jury trial.
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Hospital says no infections reported so far
As of late last week, no one had reported being infected with HIV or hepatitis, the hospital told the AP.
All exposed patients were notified, the outlet reported, and the hospital set up a hotline to answer questions and offer free screenings.
“The infections we test for are hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV, which are standard tests for potential exposure of this type,” a spokesperson for Mass General Brigham told the AP.
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What is HIV?
HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus, which, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, weakens a person’s immune system by destroying the cells that fight disease and infection. If left untreated, patients can develop AIDS, which causes various infections and sometimes death.
Once a person is diagnosed with HIV, it is imperative to take their medications as directed to stay healthy.
There is no cure for the virus, but with proper medical care, HIV can be controlled.
According to the CDC, during the first stage of HIV infection, people experience a flu-like illness within two to four weeks of infection. People at this stage have large amounts of virus in their blood and are therefore more likely to pass on the infection.
According to HIV.gov, the second stage of the virus marks a period in which it is active but only reproduces at low levels. People at this stage don’t always show symptoms, but can still transmit the virus to others. The third stage is AIDS.
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What is hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B, according to the CDC, can become a long-term chronic infection. It is transmitted when the body fluid of an infected person enters the body of an uninfected person and can lead to life-threatening illnesses, including liver cancer and cirrhosis, permanent scarring of the liver that makes it difficult for the liver to function. the organ.
There is no cure, but according to the Hepatitis B Foundation – a national nonprofit working to find a cure for the virus – vaccines can prevent the disease.
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What is hepatitis C
Hepatitis C usually progresses to a long-term chronic infection and can also cause liver damage and liver cancer.
This type of hepatitis was spread primarily through blood transfusions and organ transplants from infected donors, but screening started in the early 1990s has virtually eliminated this problem.
No vaccine has been developed to protect against hepatitis C, but according to the World Health Organization, it can be treated with antiviral medications.
“Approximately 30% of infected people spontaneously eliminate the virus within 6 months of infection, without any treatment,” says the WHO.
According to the WHO, the remaining 70% develop chronic HCV infection.
Natalie Neysa Alund is a senior reporter for USA TODAY. Contact her at email@example.com and follow her on X @nataliealund.