In a strange robbery in Vancouver at the virology lab of the St. Paul's Hospital, 19 samples of HIV positive blood were taken from the locked freezer. The vials were also labelled with the name and other confidential medical information of the persons the blood had been taken from.
The police and hospital authorities are puzzled over this bizarre theft. The samples were being stored in the 6th floor facility's virology lab when they were stolen sometime between Saturday and Monday morning. Dr. Akber Mithani, vice president of medical affairs at St. Paul's Hospital, reassured the public that the only way to infect someone is to introduce it into the blood stream. He said that as long as the vials are sealed, they pose no danger to the public. He further stated that, as it is not like an airborne disease, that the persons standing next to it or handling the vial, which is sealed, would actually to get HIV. HIV-infected blood can remain infectious 72 hours after the vials thaw, Dr. Mithani said the virus's strength reduces as time passes. So by 72 hrs there would actually be no risk with respect to the public, he stated.
Hospital spokesperson Shaheen Shivji said that this was the first time HIV-positive blood had been stolen from the hospital. She said that the samples are locked and the area is part of the regular security personnel patrols, She said the hospital's security videotapes would be checked and security measures were being stepped up. The hospital authorities are still searching for a rational explanation for the theft, stating that they could come out with a lot of theories but they would all be just speculations.
The samples, which were awaiting testing, are labelled with the patients' names, identification number and the letters "HIV VL". Dr. Mithani said putting a person's name on the test vial is required by regulation. He and the authorities further suggested and warned that if any persons comes across a vial and they suspect it could be a vial that was stolen, they asked them not to move the vials but to call police right away. They further stated that patients are being contacted to let them know what has happened.
Meanwhile Marcie Summers, who works with HIV positive patients at the Positive Women's Network, is troubled with the breach of patient confidentiality. Saying that this is very serious a problem as there are so many stigmas attached to this disease that people who are HIV-positive stand to lose their families, their homes, and their jobs if their status is disclosed without their permission.