06/27/2012 11:09 EDT | Updated 08/27/2012 05:12 EDT

UPEI lab tests could have put students at risk of contracting HIV

HALIFAX - An official at the University of Prince Edward Island says the multiple use of a blood testing device has prompted concerns that about 300 people may have been exposed to HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C.

Christian Lacroix, the university's dean of science, said Wednesday the students used the blood glucose testing device in two classes of a human physiology course from 2010 to 2012.

Lacroix says although procedures were followed to clean the spring-loaded device, which comes with a disposable needle, officials only recently learned that it is meant to be used multiple times by one person only.

"The instrument was sterilized but, nonetheless, it's not meant to be used by multiple individuals, so that's where the issue came about," he said in an interview.

He says although the risk of transmission is low the university is in the process of contacting 295 students and eight student assistants and instructors to inform them that they may want to be tested for the blood-borne viruses.

As of Tuesday, Lacroix said, close to 180 students had confirmed receipt of a registered letter informing them of what happened.

He said the university is also in the process of examining its lab protocols.

"We're looking at our protocols and procedures here to see where this might have slipped through the cracks," he said.

Lacroix said there are no documented cases of HIV transmission using the device and the risk for hepatitis is extremely low.

Information packages sent to students includes a requisition they can take to a public health office or their doctor to get tested.

"Our students are of prime importance to us, and there is an extremely low risk, but a risk nonetheless so we want to make absolutely sure that our students are informed and that they have the option to get tested too," Lacroix added.