Following a public health investigation, an Ottawa medical clinic has sent letters to 4,600 of its patients advising them to get tested for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV because of issues with “improperly cleaned medical instruments” potentially dating back nearly 15 years.

“The risk is specifically around procedures that were performed with reusable medical equipment that’s used in minor surgical procedures,” Dr. Geneviève Cadieux, associate medical officer of health at Ottawa Public Health (OPH), said during a press conference Tuesday.

What’s being described as an “infection prevention and control lapse” took place at the Main Street Family Medical Centre in the suburban Ottawa community of Stittsville between Dec. 2003, when it first opened, and April 25, 2018 -- a day after a patient filed a complaint with OPH about perceived cleanliness issues at the clinic.

“OPH responded immediately to a public complaint and initiated an investigation,” Shad Qadri, who is both chair of the Ottawa Board of Health and the municipal councillor for the area, explained at the press conference. “Based on that rapid response, all procedures that OPH assessed as being a risk to the health of clinic patients stopped immediately.”

According to OPH, procedures of concern include: skin biopsies; removal of skin tags, moles or cysts; incisions, drainage or packing of abscesses or cysts; removal of ingrown nails; sutures, staples or their removal; and the extraction of foreign bodies.

“Those pieces of stainless steel medical equipment that can be reused, they weren’t cleaned and disinfected properly,” Cadieux said, referring to items such as scalpels, forceps and scissors.

Despite being barred from performing minor surgical procedures, the clinic remains open.

“It’s alarming,” Ravi Samani, who was about to visit the clinic on Tuesday, told CTV Ottawa. “It does make me question the faith that you can put in the medical treatment that I am about to receive.”

According to OPH, this is the first complaint they have ever received about the clinic.

OPH also says that there are no known infections related to the clinic’s improperly sanitized medical equipment, nor are there further risks of infection at this time. The 4,600 affected patients, moreover, represent only a small fraction of the estimated 90,000 patients that the clinic has seen since 2003. Still, although the letters were sent “as a precaution,” Cadieux expects some of the affected patients to test positive for blood-borne viruses.

“We hope that no one has an infection that’s related to this infection control lapse,” she said. “However… with any 4,600 Canadians, you would expect about 0.4 per cent to test positive for Hepatitis B, 0.7 per cent to test positive for Hepatitis C and 0.2 per cent to test positive for HIV.”

The OPH says the clinic has been co-operating with the agency, as well as Public Health Ontario, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario and Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. The clinic has yet to respond to a request for comment.

With reports from CTV Ottawa’s Claudia Cautillo and The Canadian Press