Informing clinic patients was left to Ottawa public health
Ottawa's Medical Officer of Health says his department took on the role of informing patients that they had put at risk of infection of HIV or hepatitis by a local endoscopic clinic, after realizing that no one else would.
Dr. Isra Levy told CTV's Canada AM from Ottawa Tuesday morning that his department learned of the poor sterilization practices at the private endoscopic clinic operated by gastroenterologist Dr. Christiane Farazli in July.
That was about two months after inspectors with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario discovered the problems.
"When we learned of this, obviously we were concerned that the patients themselves would be notified," Levy said.
"And it wasn't clear whether anybody was going to do that. So certainly, we pushed for that and ultimately decided that we would do it, if no one else would."
Levy explained that the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario's role was to ensure the unsafe practices were put to an end. But it was up to others to inform the patients.
The college notified the Ontario Ministry of Health of the problems, which then notified the Ottawa public health unit in July.
After an investigation, Levy said, it was determined that there were about 6,800 patients who had used the clinic between April 2002 and June 2011. All needed to be told there was a chance they may have put at risk of infection with HIV or hepatitis B or C.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario issued a statement Monday noting that it was only because of changes to provincial legislation in 2010 that they were able to conduct the inspection that discovered the violations at Dr. Farazli's clinic.
Until that point, private clinics were not subject to the same provincial standards that compel physicians to follow proper infection-control practices.
The May inspection found that equipment used to conduct gastroscopies and colonoscopies of Farazli's clinic "was not always appropriately cleaned between tests," the college said. That put as many patients at risk of infection.
Most of those patients are expected to begin receiving letters as early as today from Ottawa public health officials. The letters will warn them they may have been exposed to hepatitis B, hepatitis C or HIV and should consider getting blood tests.
Dr. Farazli no longer performs endoscopic procedures at her clinic, though the clinic otherwise remains in operation.
On Monday, she issued an apology through an Ottawa Public Health news release.
"I remain committed to the safety and well-being of my patients and am co-operating fully with OPH in providing patients with this notification," Farazli said in the statement.
"I sincerely regret that the issues that were identified in my facility occurred and I apologize for any inconvenience or anxiety that patients may experience upon receiving this notification. I would also like to reassure patients that the issues that led to this notification have been addressed and that I will be available to support them through this process."
Health officials say there is a very low risk that any of the patients were exposed to any viruses during their procedures.
There is less than a one-in-three-billion chance that someone was infected with HIV, less than a one-in-50 million chance of infection with hepatitis C and less than a one-in-one million chance of hepatitis B infection, according to health officials.
There is no evidence yet that anyone has been infected.
Ottawa Public Health has opened a dedicated information hotline for patients who think they may have been affected. The number is 613-580-2888.