ATLANTA -- A hepatitis outbreak in a number of Southern California weight-reduction clinics was caused by contaminated jet guns used to inject human hormones into patients, federal health officials said Thursday.
'This is the first reported outbreak of any disease in which any kind of jet injector has been implicated as the vehicle of transmission,' the national Centers for Disease Control said in its weekly report.
The CDC said the outbreak occurred in 29 weight-reduction clinics throughout Southern California.
The report said 31 cases of hepatitis B were identified among patients at the clinics, most of them from February to November 1985.
'Attendees at the clinics typically received a series of daily parenteral injections of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) ... usually given by jet injectors' manufactured by Med-E-Jet Corp., of Cleveland, the CDC said.
'The jet gun is an alternative to inoculation by needle or syringe and is used extensively in vaccination programs in clinics, the military and developing countries,' said Dr. Steve Hadler, chief of Epidemiology Activity in CDC's hepatitis branch.
'Everyone always assumed that jet guns were safe,' Hadler said.
Investigation determined, however, that the Med-E-Jet, if contaminated, could transmit hepatitis B when used repeatedly.
The CDC said the Med-E-Jet did not become easily contaminated during actual use. but is difficult to clean because of the makeup of its nozzle.
'To ensure proper decontamination, disassembly and sterilization of the nozzle tip would be necessary,' the report said.
The CDC said the extensive transmission of the hepatitis B infection in the clinic outbreak appears to have resulted from repeated jet gun injections in a number of patients.
'We have to conclude contamination of the jet gun led to transmission,' Hadler said.
Hadler said no trouble has been reported with other jet gun injectors and the problem with Med-E-Jet appears to be in its nozzle tip, which he said was not smooth and had a hard-to-clean trough around it.
The CDC said the investigation indicates a need for further assessments of the possibilities of disease transmission by other types of jet guns.
As a footnote, Hadler said there is no medical evidence that HCG is effective in weight reduction.