A routine medical procedure gone wrong resulted in a young girl from Fort St. James being exposed to HIV.
The young girl, who has since moved to Prince George with her family, underwent a routine vaccination procedure at the Fort St. James Health Unit that when awry when the administering nurse accidentally pricked themselves with the needle while they were injecting the patients.
The little girls father, who wishes to remain anonymous, told the Huffington Post B.C. that while the nurse was administering the shot (a subcutaneous injection that is often administered at a 40 degree angle) the little girl flinched and the needle went through the skin of her arm and pricked the nurses hand. When the needle was removed their blood mixed and the little girl was exposed to the virus.
Initially, the family was unaware that their child had been exposed to the HIV virus as the nurse reportedly told the family that they had no blood-borne illnesses.
A week later, a representative from Northern Health contacted the family and told them that the administering nurse had tested positive for HIV and that their daughter had been exposed.
It remains unknown whether or not the nurse was aware of their HIV status prior to the contact or whether they became aware after undergoing testing as a result of the blood-to-blood contact.
However, one of the guidelines set out by the College of Registered Nurses of B.C. states that:
“Nurses who are involved in exposure-prone procedures must know whether they have a blood-borne pathogen themselves so they can take appropriate measures to protect patients from any risk of transmission.”
Similarily the College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C. says that it is a ethical responsibility that practitioners be aware of their blood-borne illness status.
Both the name of the administering nurse and the girl and her family are being withheld out of respect for the privacy of those involved.
Sandra Allison, who is the chief medical health officer with Northern Health, said that upon discovery of the incident Northern Health expressed it’s “deep regrets and apologized to the family.”
According to the College of Registered Nurses of B.C. and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia, two of the governing bodies that oversee the medical practices and protocols of nurses in British Columbia, there are guidelines in place that prevent staff with blood-borne communicable diseased like HIV from performing procedures deemed to be “exposure-prone.”
The guidelines of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia defines exposure-prone procedures as:
“Where there is a risk of injury to the physician (that) may result in exposure of the patients open tissues to the blood of the physician. These include procedures where the physicians gloved hand may be in contact with sharp instruments such as needle tips.”
Despite the description, under the guidelines immunization is not considered an “exposure-prone” procedure and thusly, there is no legal obligation to prevent a nurse or physician with a blood-borne pathogen from performing them.
There is also no legal obligation for a nurse or healthcare practitioner to disclose their HIV status to a patient.
Allison said that Northern Health does not discriminate against those with blood-borne illnesses but does expect them to practice under the guidelines of their governing bodies.
“We expect all of them [staff] to practice within the guidelines,” she said. adding that an investigation into the incident is currently underway.
“As soon as it was brought to our attention an internal investigation was implemented and it is currently under investigation.”
The family of the girl spoke to the Huffington Post B.C. and said in an interview that they have filed a complaint with Northern Health and want changes made to the policy.
In the event of an HIV transmission there are a number of anti-viral, anti-HIV treatments that are given to those in jeopardy of contracting the illness. Drugs used in those treatments must be administered within 24 hours of transmission for them to be fully effective. Because the girl and her family weren’t notified about the infection until a week after the transmission, they were not able to undergo the treatment.
It is currently unknown whether or not the girl has contracted HIV but she will be periodically tested for several months.
The likelihood of a transmission of the illness depends on a number of factors including the route of contact and can also be predicted by the viral load (the amount of viral particles per mililitres of blood) of the person who has the virus, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
If the girl does indeed contract HIV, it will mark the first time in history that a nurse-to-patient transmission (of which there have only been four) has happened in Canada.
Numerous attempts were made by the Courier to reach out the nurse involved for a statement but we were unable to reach them.