Florida Veterans Stream
for Testing After H.I.V. Warning
Published: March 25, 2009
By DAMIEN CAVE
MIAMI — Hundreds of veterans, some in
fatigues, others in wheelchairs,
streamed into the Miami Veterans
Hospital on Wednesday to be tested for
H.I.V. and hepatitis after officials
there announced that improperly cleaned
colonoscopy equipment might have exposed
them to infection.
More than 3,200 veterans who had the
procedure at Veterans Affairs clinics in
South Florida from May 2004 to March 12,
2009, may be affected.
“It’s mind-boggling,” said John, 58, a
Vietnam veteran who asked that his full
name not be used to protect his privacy.
“You got to think about this: you’re
going to get a procedure to help you
live a better life. And now it turns out
I may have sped up my system of dying.”
John Vara, the Miami V.A.’s chief of
staff, said 11 of 41 endoscopes at the
Miami hospital were not sanitized in
accordance with manufacturer guidelines.
Medical experts said the risk of
cross-contamination was low, “in the
range of 1 in 1.8 million,” said Dr.
Anthony Kaloo, chief of gastroenterology
and hepatology at Johns Hopkins. Dr.
Kaloo said that because the
gastrointestinal tract was not a sterile
area, the body of a healthy patient
would probably eliminate whatever virus
might be carried into their system by
“The problem is with immune-suppressed
patients, like cancer patients who are
receiving chemotherapy,” Dr. Kaloo said.
“They may be at higher risk.”
The threat, however, appears to have
caused a panic among a much larger swath
of the veteran population. A hot line
for South Florida veterans had received
more than 3,400 calls as of Wednesday
This is not the first incident in which
veterans may have been exposed to
infection during colonoscopies. Last
month, the Department of Veterans
Affairs alerted about 6,400 patients in
Tennessee that they might have been
exposed to infectious body fluids during
colonoscopies from 2003 to 2008. Another
1,100 veterans treated in Augusta, Ga.,
received a similar notification.
Katie Roberts, a spokeswoman for the
department in Washington, said initial
test results showed that 10 people from
Tennessee and 6 from Georgia had tested
positive for infection. The Georgia
results were still being evaluated, but
in Tennessee, six people tested positive
for hepatitis C and four for hepatitis
Ms. Roberts emphasized that people might
have gotten sick from other sources.
“There is no way to determine if the
positive test results are directly
related to the endoscopies at each
facility,” she said.
That will bring little comfort to people
like Steven Senzig, 62, a Vietnam
veteran who came to the Miami V.A.
Wednesday. He was one of 819 people to
seek testing since Tuesday.
Dr. Vara said 40 to 50 staff members had
been assigned to deal with the problem,
which he said was a measure of the
desire to “get things right.” But like
two local congressmen who have called
for an inquiry by the V.A.’s inspector
general, many veterans said they were
frustrated that the V.A. still seemed to
struggle with meeting basic standards of
Mr. Senzig, pointing to two banners
identifying the Miami hospital as an
award winner for its services, said, “My
question is, if it is happening here,
what’s happening at the rest of the
Carmen Gentile contributed reporting