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This award-winning blog supplements the articles in Hospital Infection Control & Prevention.

Crimes and misdemeanors in infection control

Once considered inevitable, then widely viewed as preventable, healthcare associated infections (HAIs) are now getting close to being flat-out illegal.

Recently we have seen enactment of various policies that fire workers that refuse flu vaccination, issue monetary fines if they do not wash their hands, and now there is a proposed law in New York that would essentially criminalize infection transmission due to negligence.

In the wake of possible hepatitis outbreaks at two New York medical facilities , New State Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski of New York City recently introduced Bill A05576 to create "the crime of reckless infection of a patient with a communicable disease by a health care provider.”

In particular, the bill targets the reuse of a syringes and needles, but specifies that it is “not limited to” that breach in basic infection control. The aforementioned incidents involved improper sterile processing of surgical tools and the reuse of a blood sugar testing device on more than one patient. Zebrowski introduced similar legislation in 2007 after more than 600 patients were advised to be tested for bloodborne infections because a New York physician allegedly reused needles .

According to a statement on his website, the subject is personal for Zebrowski because his late father (former Assemblyman Kenneth Peter Zebrowski) contracted HCV from blood transfused during a brain operation.

The bill had not been put to a vote as of this post, but even if it doesn’t pass we can expect to see more of this kind of legislative reaction to flagrant disregard of basic infection control. For years, these incidents have been followed by a familiar wave of outrage that inevitably recedes to inaction and apathy. Not any more.