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May Be Contaminated With AIDS Virus : Alert Sounded for Needles in Stolen Van

Times Staff Writer

A medical van containing used needles that may be contaminated with the AIDS virus was stolen from a residential street in Costa Mesa early Thursday, prompting a countywide alert for their recovery.

County health officials said the needles do not pose a danger to the general public unless someone breaks their sealed containers, which bear warning labels, and uses them.

“I would say there is no risk (of infection) to the general public,” Thomas J. Prendergast, the county’s epidemiologist, said Thursday. “If a drug user or someone else got the needle and used it, there is some risk, although not as high as you might think.”

Prendergast said the risk of infection from a single use of an infected needle is just one chance in 300 to 400. That is because once it is outside of the body, the potency of the acquired immune deficiency syndrome virus begins to lose potency within hours, he said.

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Still, police agencies throughout the county were alerted to look out for the unmarked white van, as well as the needles and other medical supplies that were inside it, Costa Mesa Police Lt. John Moquin said.

Moquin said the van, a 1988 Dodge Mini-Ram, was stolen between 12:30 and 8:30 a.m. from the 3000 block of Coolidge Avenue, where it was parked in front of an apartment building.

The van belongs to HealthDyne Home Infusion Therapy Inc., an Irvine-based company that provides in-home health care for varied patients, including some who are infected with human immunodeficiency virus-1, the AIDS virus.

A spokesman for HealthDyne said the needles, which are in eight disposal containers marked with a warning that they contain bio-hazardous waste, should pose minimal health risk. The containers were described as red and square-shaped, with about 1 to 2 quarts’ capacity.

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“They were in approved bio-hazardous waste containers that were clearly marked, non-puncturable and sealed,” said Jody Chambers, regional general manager of the company.

Chambers said that it has not been determined which of HealthDyne’s patients were the ones who used the needles before they were placed in the van but that it was “probable some were AIDS patients.”

He said the van, containing about eight waste containers, was parked in front of a company driver’s Costa Mesa apartment when it was stolen.

It is not unusual or against company policy for the van to have been parked overnight in front of an employee’s house because the drivers are on 24-hour call and sometimes deliver syringes and other medical equipment late at night, he added.

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For security reasons, Chambers said the company vans are unmarked and would not be a likely target for anyone looking for drugs.

Steven K. Wong, assistant director of the county’s Environmental Health Department, said if the needles are indeed contaminated with the AIDS virus they must be burned or sterilized before disposal.

Wong advised anyone who may find the containers to contact county health officials at (714) 834-8356 or their local fire department.


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