A 1985 outbreak of hepatitis that infected 64 patients at the Lindora Medical Clinic in Long Beach was caused by a contaminated jet gun used to inject the patients with a hormone for weight control, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported Thursday.
"This is the first reported outbreak of any disease in which any kind of jet injector has been implicated as the vehicle of transmission," CDC epidemiologist Steve Hadler said in the centers' weekly report.
David Sanders, a lawyer for the clinic's owner, Dr. Marshall Stamper, said that "we know of no hard evidence that the jet gun can transmit infections. Extensive tests by the manufacturer (Med-E-Jet Corp. of Cleveland) have shown that it doesn't transmit infections."
A jet gun uses pressurized gas to force medication through the skin without the use of a needle. It is thus more efficient than disposable needles and syringes, and has long been assumed to be safer.
Over a two-year period, but mostly between February and November of 1985, 31 patients at the Lindora clinic developed hepatitis B and another 33 developed laboratory evidence of infection without actually becoming sick. Hepatitis B victims generally recover within six to 12 weeks, but a small percentage develop chronic liver diseases.
The CDC said that the jet injector does not become contaminated easily during actual use, but is difficult to clean because of the design of the nozzle.
The report said that disassembly and sterilization of the nozzle is required for safety, but apparently technicians at the clinic sterilized the intact nozzle by soaking it in alcohol.
The CDC found that 24% of the clinic clients receiving their shots by jet injector guns developed acute hepatitis B infections, contrasted with none of those who got their shots by syringe.
The CDC tests showed that the clinic's vaccine guns could transmit a virus if contaminated with it--especially a high-blood-concentration virus such as hepatitis B.
Other human viruses, including AIDS and a different type of hepatitis, are not so easily transmitted and are of "much less concern," Hadler said.
The vaccine guns were removed from use at the clinic on July 2, 1985, the CDC said.