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Ottawa doctor 'sincerely regrets' hepatitis, HIV health scare

An undated handout image provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a thin-section transmission electron micrograph (TEM) depicting the ultra-structural details of a number of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) virus particles, or virions.

REUTERS/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Handout/REUTERS/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Handout

Thousands of patients of an Ottawa gastroenterologist are being warned that they may have been exposed to hepatitis or HIV when they received endoscopies at a local clinic in the past decade.

An inspection last spring by the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons at the clinic operated by Dr. Christiane Farazli, a gastroenterologist, found that some infection prevention and cleaning protocols were not always followed during the procedure which involves examining the interior of the body with a small camera.

"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," Dr. Farazli said in a statement released Monday. "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."

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Letters are being sent to approximately 6,800 patients who underwent a procedure at the clinic between April, 2002, and June, 2011. Endoscopies are no longer being performed at the facility, which remains in operation.

The Ottawa Public Health service, which named Dr. Farazli in the statement released on Monday morning, said the risk that any patients have been exposed to Hepatitis B or C or HIV during the tests is extremely low – less than 1 in 1 million for Hepatitis B, less than 1 in 50 million for Hepatitis C, and less than 1 in 3 billion for HIV.

Dr. Isra Levy, Ottawa's chief medical officer of health, is set to discuss the matter with reporters at a news conference early Monday afternoon. He created an angry outcry from Ottawa residents when he announced Saturday that the breach in infection protocols has been detected and thousands of people would be received the letters but declined to name the clinic in question.

"Even though the risk of infection for those who had the procedures related to this issue is very low, we wanted to ensure that affected patients were made aware of the situation so that they can consider being tested for these infections," Dr. Levy said after Dr. Farazli had been named.

"We are aware of the distress these letters may cause and we have worked to ensure that important information on how to be tested and how to seek medical advice is included," said Dr. Levy. "We have also notified local family physicians of the issue to ensure that they are aware of the context and are able to support any patients who come to them."

The Ottawa public health service has established a dedicated information line for residents who have questions related to this issue.

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