06/27/2012 09:55 EDT | Updated 08/27/2012 05:12 EDT

HIV, Hepatitis Warning Issued To 300 UPEI Students


University of Prince Edward Island officials are reviewing lab procedures after issuing warnings to about 300 students they may have been exposed to HIV, hepatitis B or C.

UPEI dean of science Christian Lacroix said the students used blood glucose testing equipment during class. The testing was optional to students as part of two courses, biology 122 and biology 122X, offered over the last three years.

"We're very concerned in terms of getting a hold of our students and informing them about the risk," said Lacroix.

"In terms of the risk of transmission, the chief public health officer will tell you the same thing, the risk is assessed as being extremely low."

The testing involved a lancet and a receptacle for the blood. The lancets were single use only, but the receptacles were used by several students. UPEI reviewed its procedures after a story from a Manitoba high school about improper use of equipment there.

After consulting with P.E.I. Chief Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison, the university decided to change its procedures, and sent out trackable letters by Xpresspost to 295 students and eight student instructors on Friday.

"We felt that the risk of transmission — hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV — was extremely low but there was a risk, nevertheless," said Morrison.

"Occasionally there can be flashback of some blood when they test the person's blood and it can get in the device itself. So though the needle is changed there may be some blood left behind in the cap of the device."

Morrison said the risk of transmission of hepatitis B and HIV for a student in this case is less than one in one million, and for hepatitis C about five in one million. Morrison's office made that assessment partly based on the prevalence of those diseases on the Island.

UPEI said around half of the students did the testing, though there is no way to tell which students used the equipment. The school has offered to arrange testing for anyone who wants it.

The university following its letters with emails and telephone calls as necessary, and has established a toll-free number staffed by faculty from UPEI's School of Nursing and an information web site.

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