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ALBUQUERQUE — A group of New Mexico medical school students failed to properly change needles on devices used for blood glucose testing and now officials say a few dozen people might be at risk for contracting serious diseases.
University of New Mexico School of Medicine officials made the announcement Thursday, hoping they can locate those who participated in the free testing April 24 at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque. Between 51 and 55 people were tested that day.
“Basically you’ve got the students who were trying to do something good and just didn’t go about it the right way,” said Sam Giammo, a spokesman for UNM’s Health Sciences Center.
Students from UNM’s physician assistant program conducted the free blood sugar tests during the
cultural center’s American Indian Week Pueblo Days. The center’s visitor list for that Saturday included more than 1,600 people from across the nation and abroad — including Canada, Italy, Sweden and Germany.
Tazbah McCullah, a spokeswoman for the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, pointed to the high rate of diabetes among American Indians, saying the students had in their minds that they were trying to help.
McCullah said the center learned about the testing mistakes May 10 and has joined UNM in trying to inform people about the incident. Notices have been sent to tribal officials, the Indian Health Service, tourism organizations and others.
“We have visitors locally and from all over the world that come here so that’s why we felt it was important to get this out far and wide,” she said.
Giammo said the devices should not have been used at the public event and not all of the students were properly trained to use them. Because test results were immediate, students didn’t keep records on participants.
The devices, similar to home glucose testers, contain six lancets — or needles — that can be triggered to draw a blood sample. With each use, the device must be advanced manually to load a new lancet.
While some volunteers were safely and properly tested, officials said some failed to change the lancets, resulting in potential exposure to other’s blood.
Dr. Bob Bailey, associate dean for clinical affairs for the UNM School of Medicine, issued an apology on behalf of the school to the cultural center and those who may have been exposed. Medical officials are most concerned about diseases Hepatitis B and C and HIV, he said.
“Our best current assessment of the risk of infection is less than a 0.5 percent risk. Even though the risk is small, it is something we are very concerned about and are taking seriously,” Bailey said.
The university has collected all of the devices used during the testing and the strips used to test the blood sugar levels and secured them for working with forensic specialists. In all, about 11 cartridges of lancets were used during the event, Giammo said.
A special team was named to work with the Indian Health Service, New Mexico Department of Health and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. One of the first tasks is to identify those who underwent testing at the event.
The university said those people who may have been exposed will be offered follow-up testing for Hepatitis B, C and HIV. The costs will be covered by UNM.
Bailey said something like this has never happened before and steps have been taken to ensure it doesn’t happen again, including the approval of new protocol for volunteer student events that ensures patient safety and quality standards.
Public health authorities are requesting that those who participated in the testing event call Toll-Free 1-888-899-6092 or visit the UNM Web site at http://contact.health.unm.edu for more information and referral for screening.