Poisoned heparin in pet medicine? How would we ever know?
Is it possible? Might Baxter’s poisoned heparin trickle down to pets? Why not? And how would we ever know?
In case you haven’t been made ware of the problem through your media sources, here’s a wrap-up: Tainted heparin, a blood-thinning medication, was manufactured by drug company Baxter after using ingredients sourced from—you guessed it—China.
As far as I know, no one’s tried to send me an alert on the stuff. I’ve had to read the Wall Street Journal and listen to NPR to get a dose of this issue on my patients’ behalf.
Maybe that’s because I don’t use Baxter’s brand of heparin, the one responsible for 60-plus deaths in humans (primarily in dialysis centers where heparin is used as a catheter and tubing lubricating clot-buster).
I have to assume that by this time if no one’s issued an alert on the brand I DO use, that’s because it’s A-OK. My source swears their heparin’s no relation to the Baxter version. But can I help it if I’m edgy?
After all, no one sent me an alert after last year's pet food recall. And heparin is used off label for pets, meaning it's not strictly approved for their use (though a law oes allow their use "off-label" for animals). If the pet food companies didn't deign to inform me of their debacle, why would the human-focused heparin makers?
Moreover, I have no idea what my patients might look like had they received tainted heparin. What would their clinical signs be, anyway?
Would anyone investigate if another few fifteen year-old kitties with renal failure died after receiving blood transfusions laced with thinners?
If my saddle thrombus cases (precious few, thankfully) up and died? (Most do, anyway, unless treated very early.)
And how much would be too much for all the pets that have their catheters flushed with the heparin-saline solutions almost all veterinary hospitals use to maintain the intravenous catheters we use daily?
As predicted, last year’s pet food recall revealed only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Chinese-ingredient tainted goods. Grains, drugs, toys…they’re all fair game in our brave new world of globalized trade with nations whose methods of quality control are far more lax than ours.
I certainly don’t wish to start an Internet rumor that claims your pets may become ill from the heparin they may receive. There’s absolutely no evidence that’s the case. But can we help it if our trust in the FDA and the drug companies is as tainted as the cheap Chinese ingredients we fear?