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Tuesday, October 26, 1999 Published at 21:45 GMT 22:45 UK


Blood tests in hepatitis alert

The virus was transmitted during an operation

At least 1,500 women and babies are to be offered blood tests after a surgeon was found to have passed Hepatitis C to a female patient.

The virus was transmitted during an operation at the Pilgrim Hospital in Boston, Lincolnshire, in 1997.

Doctors believe that the virus was spread by "skin penetration of infected blood", but said the risk of passing it to a patient was around 0.3%.

Hepatitis C is an extremely infectious disease that attacks the liver. It is usually transmitted in infected blood, but it is also thought to be passed in bodily fluids during sexual contact.

Deputy chief medical officer Pat Troop has told the four hospitals where the surgeon has worked in obstetrics and gynaecology since 1993 to contact all his patients.

Medical hotlines

The surgeon, who has not been named, has also worked at the Princess Anne Hospital in Southampton, the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital and Torbay District General Hospital.

He has been on sick leave since last week.

Letters have already been sent to patients offering blood tests and advice and special hotlines have been set up.

Dr Martin Fairman, medical director at the Pilgrim Hospital, said: "We are contacting patients who have had what are known as exposure prone procedures such as hysterectomies or Caesarean deliveries."

The patient affected is receiving treatment, although her current state of health is not known.

Once someone has been exposed to the hepatitis C virus, it usually takes one to three weeks before the virus is detected in their blood.

Many patients with hepatitis C infection have no symptoms.

However, up to a third develop symptoms of acute hepatitis C infection, including:

  • Feeling sick
  • Weakness
  • Poor appetite
  • Jaundice - a yellowish tint to the skin and whites of the eyes that is caused by a build up of liver chemicals in the blood.

If Hepatitis C is not cleared from the immune system with six months, it can cause chronic liver damage, which can lead to cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer.

The special information telephone numbers are: Boston - 01205 442 064, Torbay - 01803 655 655, Southampton and Exeter - 0845 4647.

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