Clinical Studies| Volume 105, ISSUE 4, P296-301, October 1998

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Deja vu: nosocomial hepatitis B virus transmission and fingerstick monitoring


      PURPOSE: Three patients with acute hepatitis B virus infection were identified who had been hospitalized on the same medical ward during a 19-day period several months earlier. An investigation was undertaken to determine if nosocomial transmission had occurred.
      SUBJECTS AND METHODS: A cohort study of patients admitted to the medical ward during the 19-day period in 1995 was conducted. In addition, we reviewed medical charts and laboratory records of all patients with acute hepatitis B virus infection who had been admitted to the hospital from 1992 through October 1996 to identify other cases with possible nosocomial acquisition.
      RESULTS: The 3 patients who had developed acute hepatitis B infection 2 to 5 months after hospitalization on the same medical ward had diabetes mellitus but no identified risk factors for hepatitis B infection. A source patient with diabetes mellitus and hepatitis B “e” antigenemia also was present on the same medical ward at the same time; all 4 patients were infected with the same viral subtype (adw2). Diabetes mellitus and fingerstick monitoring were associated with illness (P <0.001). Through the review of medical charts and laboratory records, 11 additional cases of suspected nosocomial acquisition via fingersticks were identified in 1996, including two clusters involving an unusual subtype of hepatitis B virus (adw4). The fingerstick device employed had a reusable base onto which disposable lancet caps were inserted. There was ample opportunity for cross-contamination among patients because deficiencies in infection control practices, particularly failure to change gloves between patients, were reported by nurses and patients with diabetes mellitus.
      CONCLUSION: Transmission during fingerstick procedures was the most likely cause of these cases of nosocomial hepatitis B infection. Contamination probably occurred when health-care workers failed to change gloves between patients undergoing fingerstick monitoring, although other means of contamination cannot be ruled out.
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