Over 90 pieces of surgery theatre equipment used between February 2 and 11 did not undergo the final step of sterilisation in Hawke’s Bay Hospital.

Blood-borne infectious diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C are of most concern to the patients. The DHB said that patients would be tested for the viruses.

Hawke’s Bay DHB chairman Kevin Snee apologised for the error, but said any risk of infection was “very low”.

Associate Professor Mark Thomas from the University of Auckland agrees infection is unlikely.

“Most accidents like this do not result in infections occurring in patients. The processes that the DHB is following are what would be commonly used in similar circumstances.”

“The consequences of inadequate sterilisation include the survival on the surgical instruments of microbes that might have been infecting the patients that the equipment had been used on. These microbes might be viruses in the patient’s blood (e.g. Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C or HIV) or bacteria in the patient’s tissues.

“Most bacteria would require relatively heavy contamination to then infect a person who had surgery with inadequately-sterilised equipment, and this level of contamination is relatively unlikely because of the effectiveness of the usual cleaning processes.

“Of the three viruses mentioned, Hepatitis B is the one that is most common in the community and that also requires the least number of viruses to be inoculated into tissues for infection to become established,” said Thomas.

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