Alberta health officials say 270 clinic patients may have been exposed to hepatitis B and C

Up to 270 patients at a medical clinic in north Edmonton may be at risk of hepatitis B and C, Alberta Health Services officials warned Monday.

No confirmed cases of illness but Edmonton patients deemed at-risk warned to get blood tests

Patients that received skin-invasive procedures prior to November 2015 at this clinic, are at risk for Hepatitis B and C. (Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC NEWS)

Up to 270 patients at a medical clinic in north Edmonton may be at risk of hepatitis B and C, Alberta Health Services warned Monday.

A joint investigation by AHS and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta has confirmed that "inadequate reprocessing and sterilization of medical devices" at the Northtown Medical Clinic may have put the patients at risk of infection.

Dr. Trevor Theman, registrar with the College of Physicians and Surgeons, says staff failed to properly sterilize the steel instruments.

"As best we know they weren't trained properly," he said.

"They were getting the grimy bits off. What they weren't doing is ensuring the sterilizer was meeting the temperatures that were necessary in order to kill any potential pathogens," Theman said.

"And they weren't properly using the biological indicators to indicate that, in fact, this was being done to appropriate standards."

Infection risk considered low

The at-risk patients had invasive skin procedures done at the clinic, at 140 9450 137th Ave., from the fall of 2013 to November 2015.

Dr. Joanna Oda, medical officer of health, said the risk of infection is considered low and associated only with skin-invasive procedures such as mole removals, skin biopsies and stitching of minor wounds.

"We used the clinic's records to identify the patients at risk," she said. "It's only the patients who received these procedures. You could be a patient there, but if you did not receive a procedure, you aren't at risk."

There have been no confirmed cases of illness to date associated with the inadequate sterilization procedures, AHS said.

At-risk patients identified through the investigation process will be advised to seek blood testing for hepatitis B and C, diseases that affect the liver.

"Hepatitis B and C are both common diseases," Oda said. "They are both considered blood-born infections and are transmitted through blood exposures.

"Hepatitis B, unlike Hepatitis C, is vaccine preventable, and part of the routine childhood immunizations," she said.

"Both are very serious. Hepatitis C is becoming a little bit more treatable. We have some new treatments that have made Hepatitis C a little bit more curable."

Patients at risk to be notified by letter

Those potentially at risk will be informed by letter.

The letters were mailed by health officials on July 14, and should arrive within the next few weeks.

Inadequate reprocessing procedures were first identified at the Northtown Medical Clinic in an audit in November 2015.

Within 24 hours, the College of Physicians and Surgeons, which was "concerned" with the findings, ordered the clinic to stop reprocessing equipment. Public health officials were alerted.

AHS conducted an inspection and with the college, determined that a full investigation was needed.

A risk assessment panel conducted "an intense and thorough" investigation which ended in late June, AHS said.

The clinic now uses single-use instruments for all skin-invasive procedures. AHS said the clinic has passed subsequent inspections.