The Thunder Bay District Health Unit (TBDHU) has issued a warning over a possible infection control lapse at two colon cleansing services in the city, and advising clients to get tested for HIV and hepatitis.

Anyone who was a client of colon cleansing services offered at Natural Health and Chiropractic (817 Victoria Ave. E) or the Colon Therapy Clinic (267 Park Ave.) may have been exposed to improperly-cleaned instruments, the health unit said.

The health unit recommends anyone who used those services be tested for HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C.

"We cannot entirely quantify the level of risk," said Lee Sieswerda, manager of environmental health at the TBDHU. "Record-keeping by the practitioners was a little bit spotty, and, in addition, of course people could have been using the services that had infections to transmit, but didn't necessarily disclose that."

'Completely inadequate' infection control

Sieswerda said the TBDHU was made aware of the problem through public complaints, and inspections revealed lapses that were "quite significant."

"Some of the cleaners that were being used in at least one of the cases would have been completely inadequate to eliminate hepatitis c, hepatitis b, or HIV," he said. "If they were present on those instruments, that would be quite a significant risk."

However, the health unit is not aware of any cases of infection directly related to those services, a news release states.

Sieswerda said while client records are spotty, it's estimated that at least a few hundred people are at risk. In addition, he noted, these infection control issues go back years.

"Natural Health and Chiropractic has been doing this for over 20 years, from what we've been told," he said. "And the Colon Therapy Clinic, that person has, I believe, been operating for approximately seven years."

"The two practitioners that are closed indicated that the same infection-control practices that we found, which were very inadequate, were the same way that they've been doing it for the entire time that they've been offering this service."

Locations closed

Anyone who received a colon cleanse at one of the locations is advised to contact their health care provider or visit a walk-in clinic for testing. Sieswerda said 

The TBDHU has notified health care providers in the city about the issue, and has posted a letter on their website that people can print and bring to their doctor or walk-in clinic that contains the relevant information.

The colon cleansing services at the two locations have been temporarily closed, and both services providers are cooperating with the health unit as they work toward compliance with infection control requirements.

Not regulated

Sieswerda said colon cleansing providers are not licensed.

"We actually did not know that they were operating in that capacity," he said. "They don't have a college, they're not regulated."

"We, of course, are going to start inspecting them now that we know about them, and ensuring that they have good infection-control policies in place."

Sieswerda says the TBDHU knows of one other colon cleansing establishment in the city.