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Alberta warns patients to get tested due to equipment sterilization concerns

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FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. - Alberta Health Services is warning 225 patients of a Fort McMurray clinic to get tested for HIV and hepatitis B and C.

Dr. Albert de Villiers, the region's chief medical health officer, says the risk of contracting the disease is low, but people should get tested as a precaution.

"We have been advising them that they have been to a clinic in Fort McMurray where there were some issues with sterilization of medical equipment and they might have been exposed," de Villiers said Friday.

"The letter says they may have been exposed, there is very low risk, but they should go in for some blood tests to make sure that they did not contract any diseases. The three we are testing for are hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV."

Those being contacted are or were patients of the Dayspring Medical and Cosmetic Clinic.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta investigated the clinic and determined it was not properly sterilizing equipment between 2005 and the middle of last year.

De Villiers said the clinic is now following proper sterilization procedures.

Some of the warning letters sent out two weeks ago have bounced back because people have moved away, but he said everyone will be notified.

The blood tests that have been completed so far have come back negative, he said.

In 2008, Alberta Health Services advised up to 1,300 patients to get blood tests because of infection control problems at the High Prairie Health Complex. An investigation concluded that some staff were reusing intravenous line syringes.

That same year the College of Physicians and Surgeons began inspecting medical facilities across the province.

College spokeswoman Kelly Eby said there have been 650 inspections since then and there have been seven cases that caused concern about sterilization procedures. They were reported to public health officers and the medical facilities were told to stop reusing improperly sterilized equipment.

Eby said that, overall, Albertans have no reason to believe that clinics are not following proper protocol.

"I think it has substantially improved because we have done a lot of education and awareness," she said. "We send information to the clinics before we even get there."

— By John Cotter in Edmonton

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