Surgical instruments used in colonoscopies and endoscopies at US veterans hospitals are not being properly disinfected, potentially exposing patients to HIV and hepatitis, according to US press reports.

The Veterans Administration hospitals inspector general for healthcare inspections, Dr John D Daigh, said that about 11,000 veterans tested at hospitals in Georgia, Florida and Tennessee were at risk of these infections.

The state Department of Health and Environmental Control examines 100 hospitals and 75 outpatient surgery centres and clinics for the federal Medicare programme every three months in South Carolina, according to a department spokesman.

A spokesman for the Centres for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) said that CMS has $10m in stimulus funds for new regulations aimed at reducing infections.

Infections acquired at hospitals are among the top ten leading causes of death in the US, increasing healthcare costs by about $20bn a year, says the US Department of Health and Human Services.