A pharmacist injects a patient with influenza vaccine at a Manhattan pharmacy on Jan. 14, 2013, in New York City. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Health authorities in New Jersey said a nurse reused syringes last week while giving flu shots to 67 employees from a pharmaceutical company.

The New Jersey Department of Health and West Windsor Township Health Department announced Wednesday a joint investigation into the “infection control breach” Sept. 30 at an employee flu vaccine clinic at Otsuka Pharmaceuticals in West Windsor, N.J. Health-care agency TotalWellness, which had hired the nurse as a contractor, said that the person “failed to follow proper medical procedures and safeguards.”

“We take full responsibility for this incident and are working diligently with the New Jersey Department of Health to resolve this matter as swiftly as possible,” TotalWellness president Alan Kohll said in a statement. “Our sincerest apologies go out to all those affected by this terrible event.”

The same syringes — not needles — were reused during last week’s clinic though it’s not clear how many syringes were reused, state Department of Health spokeswoman Donna Leusner said in a statement. The risk is low for transmission of hepatitis B and C and HIV, which are blood-borne diseases, she said. But local, state and federal-level Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are still recommending that the impacted patients get tested.

Leusner said patients have been contacted by phone, e-mail and letter.

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“The majority of impacted individuals have been contacted by public health officials,” the department said in the statement, “and those efforts are continuing until all potentially affected individuals are reached.”

An urgent care clinic did free blood tests for the patients over the weekend, and the West Windsor Township Health Department held a clinic earlier this week for flu and hepatitis B vaccines.

Over the past decade, more than 150,000 patients across the country have been told to get tested for hepatitis B and C and HIV following syringe reuse and misuse, according to data from the CDC. It has outlined safe injection practices — emphasizing one needle and syringe per patient.

“Do not administer medications from a syringe to multiple patients, even if the needle or cannula on the syringe is changed,” the CDC has cautioned. “Needles, cannulae, and syringes are sterile, single-use items; they should not be reused for another patient nor to access a medication or solution that might be used for a subsequent patient.”

Local and state health departments and the New Jersey Board of Nursing are still investigating the incident, according to the Associated Press.

Otsuka Pharmaceuticals said it was alarmed by the breach.

“The health and wellness of our employees is our primary concern,” the company said in a statement. “We were upset and alarmed when we learned that a nurse, affiliated with TotalWellness, the company we retained to provide free flu shots for our employees, had breached vaccination protocols during what should have been a routine flu shot clinic.

“Our highest priority at this difficult time is to help these individuals get all of the necessary information and health resources they need.”

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