More than 10,400 former patients have been getting follow-up blood tests because of VA mistakes with equipment used in colonoscopies at Murfreesboro, Tenn., and Miami and at the agency's Augusta, Ga., ear, nose and throat clinic. A report Friday shows 7,615 of those veterans have been notified of test results.
The report shows that as of Monday, five former patients at the three hospitals had tested positive for HIV and 34 had tested positive for hepatitis although it's not clear if the infections came from VA treatment.
Bagian told The Associated Press that during nationwide safety review discussions, more than a dozen other facilities said "We are not doing this exactly right." He said those reports did not merit follow-up blood tests.
"We looked at every one of those," he said. Bagian declined to give details on those problems but said there was no reason to involve patients.
Bagian described the Murfreesboro, Miami and Augusta facilities as the only ones with "any kind of appreciable risk" of exposing patients to infections.
Bagian said expanding the follow-up blood tests to other locations would cause unnecessary patient "anxiety." He said the VA's' main concern is the health of affected veterans.
The follow-up blood tests are continuing and the agency has repeatedly said the positive tests for HIV and hepatitis may not have any connection to the VA wrongly rigging equipment or failing to properly clean it between patients.
The U.S. House Committee on Veterans' Affairs has tentatively set a June hearing for the VA inspector general to report on a review of the mistakes. U.S. Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, the ranking Republican on the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, has requested an oversight hearing.
In a Thursday letter to Veterans Affairs Inspector General George Opher, Burr said an independent body should evaluate the VA's decision not to identify 16 additional locations that "reported incorrect" techniques.
In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, former Marine Allen Lusk said he tested positive for hepatitis B in December after he had several colonoscopies at the VA hospital in Iowa City.
Lusk, 51, said he did not have hepatitis B before going to the VA.
"I know it on a stack of Bibles," he said.
Lusk said Friday he's concerned about more than his health after finding out that the VA now says there were problems at facilities other than the three in the Southeast.
"What are they trying to hide? If this is something that is their fault they need to buck up and take responsibility for it. I'm sure there are more people than me concerned about how they got certain things," Lusk said in a phone interview.
Each of the three centers in the Southeast had a different problem operating the same kind of endoscopic equipment made by Olympus American, according to the VA.
Bagian said the problems are all due to human error. Patients who have been warned to get blood tests may have been exposed from April 2003 to December 2008 at Murfreesboro, from May 2004 to March 2009 at Miami and from January 2008 to November 2008 at Augusta.
Burr's letter said he has "become increasingly concerned" about the VA's decision not to disclose the problems at the other facilities.
In February, the VA started warning former patients and announced a nationwide safety check of endoscopic valves and tubes used in colonoscopies and ear, nose and throat treatments. The procedure inserts a narrow, flexible tube fitted with a device such as a telescope or magnifying lens into the body.
Bagian has said the VA will treat all former patients who test positive in any follow-up blood check. But he predicted no one will be able to trace an infection to VA equipment, partly due to the VA not knowing how long the mistakes were made.
Dr. Joseph Perz, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an e-mail statement that tracing infections "can be challenging."
"When we conduct an epidemiological investigation, we try to rule out other sources of infection and find a link to common exposure between patients," Perz said. "We also try to look for signs of a new infection or determine patterns in the outbreak to try gather information from other patients to find a link to exposure."