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Updated Jan 8, 2014 - 4:30 pm

Arizona inmates may have been exposed to pathogens

PHOENIX -- As many as 24 inmates at a state prison west of Phoenix could have been exposed to blood-borne pathogens as a result of a medical protocol violation by a nurse for the company that provides health care services at Arizona's prisons, officials said Wednesday.

The health care company and state officials haven't provided details on how the violation occurred or the type of pathogens to which the prisoners might have been exposed. But the company, Brentwood, Tenn.-based Corizon Health Inc., said in a statement that the violation involved improper procedures for injections.

Blood-borne pathogens, viruses that can be transmitted through blood or other bodily fluids, include Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV.

Corizon said the violation occurred Sunday evening in three of the seven units at the Arizona State Prison Complex-Lewis in Buckeye. The company publicly disclosed the violation in a written statement Wednesday.

The nurse who violated the protocol has been suspended as Corizon investigates the violation and provides medical care for inmates who might have been exposed, the company said.

Corizon spokeswoman Susan Morgenstern declined to provide details on how the violation occurred.

Arizona Department of Corrections spokesman Doug Nick declined to provide further details, saying it was a medical issue that's being handled by Corizon.

Corrections Director Charles Ryan said in a statement that the agency expects Corizon to address any errors made in patient care.

``Corizon responded to this incident immediately and has assured the department that it will conduct a full investigation of this matter to ensure any potentially affected inmates are treated,'' Ryan said.

Inmates at the same prison were possibly exposed to Hepatitis C in August 2012 after medication was given with a dirty needle. It's not known whether any of the inmates were infected.

A nurse had contaminated an insulin vial while injecting insulin into an inmate who had Hepatitis C. The nurse later used the contaminated vial to give insulin to other inmates, according to state prison records.

That incident involved a nurse who was working on behalf of Pittsburgh-based Wexford Health Sources Inc. State prison officials severed its ties with Wexford and then hired Corizon to handle health services at prisons in early 2013.

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