Diabetes test turns into health scare for Winnipeg students

About 80 students and staff at a Winnipeg school are being tested for HIV and hepatitis, after the same diabetes testing pen was used on each person.

Teens possibly exposed to infection after professor improperly used equipment

About 80 students and staff at a Winnipeg school are being tested for HIV and hepatitis, after the same diabetes testing pen was used on each person.

Southeast Collegiate had invited a University of Manitoba pediatrics professor to speak to students as part of a diabetes awareness day on May 4.

As part of the professor's talk, he tested blood sugar levels on about 80 students and staff at the school's request, according to university officials.

But the professor, who is not a physician and was not authorized by the university to perform such a procedure, used a glucometer pen available at any pharmacy.

Although the professor did change the lancet — the pricking needle — between each test, and performed proper sterilization procedures, the glucometer device is not intended to be used on multiple people because there is the chance of infection.

As a result, the students and staff who underwent the tests faced a small risk of contracting blood-borne infections like HIV and hepatitis B and C.

"The device — the little pen-like device — is meant to be a single-user device. The device itself should not be shared between people," said Dr. Cheryl Rockman-Greenberg, head of the pediatrics and child health department at the university's medical school.

The lancets were changed for each person, Rockman-Greenberg said, but the professor did not realize the pen itself is not safe for use by multiple individuals.

1st test results to arrive Monday

The University of Manitoba has asked the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA) to test everyone who took the diabetes tests for HIV and hepatitis B and C.

Earlier this week, the first group of about 50 affected students and staff were tested. They are expected to receive their results on Monday.

All 80 students and staff will have to be tested again in six months.

Dr. Michael Routledge, the WRHA's medical director of public health, said the risk of infection is small, but it's not zero.

"When you reuse the same pen, even if you change the needle, there's a slight risk that you can have virus on the pen cap ... [and] you can transmit that," he said.

"I hope that people don't have the perception that it was the actual needle … that was reused," he added. "Hopefully that helps people feel more at ease."

'Trying not to be worried,' says mother

Southeast Collegiate is a boarding school for aboriginal students, owned and operated by nine northern Manitoba First Nations.

The mother of one 18-year-old student who underwent a blood test told CBC News she is angry with what happened, but she hopes her daughter will be OK.

"I'm trying not to be worried for her," said the mother, who CBC News is not naming to protect her child's identity.  

"I think she's pretty anxious. Even if they come out all negative Monday, there's still another six-month wait to find out if it's going to be positive or not."

The mother said her daughter is currently studying for exams, hoping to graduate later this month.

"She's supposed to graduate on the 21st and she's having a hard enough time to keep up with her exams and everything, and having to think about all of this at the same time," she said.

Some of the affected students' parents are planning to travel to Winnipeg this weekend so they can be present when their children's blood test results arrive on Monday.

'We're very, very sorry'

Rockman-Greenberg said the professor carried out the diabetes tests without the university being consulted, and it was beyond the scope of his practice.

"This individual is a member of our department and disciplinary action has been taken," she said, though she did not specify what that action was.

"We're very, very sorry about the stress that it has caused the students, the parents, the community," she added.

The university has also ordered a review of the incident.

Officials have not identified the professor who has been disciplined.

Rockman-Greenberg said the professor had assumed that parents had known that the diabetes tests would be done as part of the high school's diabetes awareness day.

"The organizing committee, they been working on this for months and were parents of kids in the school, and they had made the request in all good faith to increase awareness of diabetes," she said.

"Everybody had the right intention."

With files from the CBC's Sean Kavanagh and Karen Pauls