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L.I. Hospital Says Thousands Of Patients May Be At Risk Of Blood Contamination

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A frightening warning has been issued for thousands of patients who were treated at a Long Island hospital.

As CBS 2's Carolyn Gusoff reported Wednesday, South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside has called for blood tests for thousands of patients who may have been exposed to dangerous viruses, including hepatitis and HIV, through insulin shots.

The hospital is sending out 4,247 letters to patients who may have received insulin from an insulin pen reservoir that might have been reused rather than a single-use needle, between March 2011 and this January.

L.I. Hospital Says Thousands Of Patients May Be At Risk Of Blood Contamination

Cynthia Shub was among those who have received the letter.

"I see 'shared' and 'patients' -- the neighbors could have heard me scream," she said.

Shub received an insulin shot at the hospital last year, and was shocked at the concerns the letter expressed.

"I see hepatitis, I see HIV; I'm like, 'Are you kidding?'" she said.

Another patient who received the letter did not want to show his face.

"Shocking -- very shocking, and very disturbing," he said. "Someone screwed up somewhere."

Hospital officials said concerns stemmed from one nurse heard saying insulin pens can be used on multiple patients. Insulin is held in a chamber for multiple uses on the same patient.

"It just doesn't make sense that something like this could happen like this nowadays. It's not like something that's not known; don't share this stuff. And the hospital did it. You know, if people do it, it's one thing. A hospital does it? It's a little ridiculous," a woman told WCBS 880 Long Island Bureau Chief Mike Xirinachs.

The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control both released strongly worded reminders between 2009 and 2012 following several similar incidents at other hospitals that put more than 2,000 patients at risk.

The agency warned it had become "increasingly aware of reports of improper use of insulin pens" that "must never be used on more than one person."

"When you use the pen for more than one patient, you have the possibility of introducing the bodily fluids from someone else into another individual," said Dr. Alison Myers, an endocrinologist with the North Shore-LIJ Health System.

A South Nassau spokesman said no one was seen reusing the pen, and fresh needles were used for each patient.

"The risk of infection from this is extremely low," the hospital statement said. "Nonetheless, out of an abundance of caution, the hospital is recommending that patients receiving the notification be tested."

Shub said she will now have to go through an agonizing wait for test results.

"You go into a hospital, you expect to be taken care of, not to be given a disease," she said.

A spokesman for the hospital said it is no longer using the insulin pen. The hospital has replaced the pens with single-use syringes.

The hospital has set up a toll-free hotline for patients to schedule a blood test at (516) 208-0029 and is asking patients to schedule a blood test within 60 days of receiving the letter.

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