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U.S. probes blood testing protocols at Nevada tribe

RENO — Federal tribal health officials are testing the blood of 21 members of a Northern Nevada tribe to be sure they weren’t exposed to HIV or any other blood-borne diseases as part of an investigation into a potential violation of testing protocols at a tribal clinic’s wellness program.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Indian Health Services does not believe any members of the Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe were exposed to disease last week at the clinic near the Nevada-Oregon line, said Dr. Marie Russell, deputy chief medical officer for the federal agency’s area office in Phoenix.

But she said Wednesday they’ve made contact with all 21 individuals to be re-tested as a precautionary measure, and have completed tests on the majority of them. She said the agency recently began an investigation in response to a complaint from a person she did not identify who had blood tested as part of the wellness program that included efforts to combat diabetes.

Tribal Chairman Tildon Smith said earlier this week members of his staff noticed on Jan. 8 that while the needle itself was changed between patients, the same blood glucose pen was being used repeatedly to administer the tests without proper sterilization.

“There was an instance in which a blood sugar, finger-stick device was potentially used improperly,” Russell confirmed Wednesday.

“It was brought to our attention by a participant. We immediately removed any testing supplies and we are in the process still of understanding what occurred and investigating what happened,” she said.

The wellness program continues at the reservation in rural Humboldt County about 200 miles northeast of Reno but all testing for blood sugar has been suspended, Russell said. Citing personnel policies, she said she could not comment on reports that an IHS official affiliated with the program had been placed on administrative leave.

Smart told the Reno Gazette-Journal on Monday the HIS diabetes coordinator — a woman who started working at the tribe’s Diabetes Wellness Center last summer — was placed on leave pending the investigation. He said he was among a number of tribal members tested who fear the entire 300-member tribe could be at risk of an outbreak of HIV, or Hepatitis B and C.

Details of the follow-up tests have not been released, but Russell said there’s no indication there is any basis for concern about an outbreak.

“To be clear, there is no outbreak,” she said. “We don’t believe there was exposure. We have no knowledge of any exposure to blood-borne disease or anything else.”

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