News Coronavirus Victorian hotel quarantine program now sparks HIV scare
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Victorian hotel quarantine program now sparks HIV scare

The hotel quarantine program for returned travellers has caused much angst. Photo: AAP
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Victoria’s botched hotel quarantine program may have inadvertently exposed returned travellers to blood-borne viruses such as HIV.

The latest scare comes as the inquiry into the program holds an “extraordinary sitting” on Tuesday after other revelations that emerged after its hearings wrapped up.

The inquiry is expected to question Chris Eccles, who was the head of the Department of Premier and Cabinet until he resigned last week, and Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton.

The hotel quarantine inquiry report is due on November 6, but new information appears to still be coming to light.

Safer Care Victoria announced on Monday that quarantine accommodation guests were being contacted to undergo precautionary screening for cross-contamination and infection.

Based on its health records, 243 guests had a blood glucose level test from March 29 to August 20.

Testing devices not designed to be shared were used on multiple residents, presenting a risk of cross-contamination and blood-borne virus infections including Hepatitis B and C, and HIV.

Safer Care Victoria acting chief executive Associate Professor Ann Maree Keenan said the clinical risk of infection is low.

“The health of past quarantine residents is our immediate concern, so arranging screening for them is our absolute priority,” she said in a statement.

The clinical risk is low. But if you are at all worried you had this test – and we have not contacted you yet – please call us.”

The Department of Health and Human Services said it was helping Safer Care Victoria and Alfred Health to identify and contact residents about the “newly identified risk”.

The devices were removed from hotel quarantine in August and it is believed they didn’t contribute to the spread of COVID-19 as the virus isn’t transmitted through blood.

Needles on the finger-prick tests were changed between uses, but the body of the device is capable of retaining microscopic amounts of blood.

Most diabetics in hotel quarantine would have had their own device and not required a test from a nurse or doctor during their 14-day stay.

“The test may also be used for pregnant women, people who fainted or people who are generally unwell,” the statement said.

Safer Care Victoria has promised a full review of how and why the devices came to be used.

“Right now, we won’t be able to answer the many questions people will have about how this happened,” Prof Keenan said.

“I hope that we will be able to bring peace of mind through getting people in for testing, and through the findings of our review.”

Any returned travellers concerned they had the test and who have not been contacted can call DHHS’s dedicated hotline on 1800 356 061 from 8am to 8pm.

-with AAP