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The BBC's Fergus Walsh
"The NHS is now considering tough new measures"
 real 28k

Thursday, 30 March, 2000, 10:08 GMT 11:08 UK
Thousands in hepatitis alert

Patients could have been infected in hospital
More than 4,500 people treated at 15 UK hospitals could have been at risk of infection from a potentially deadly virus.

They are to be contacted after it was discovered that a surgeon and another health worker both have the virus and have already passed it to a handful of patients.

New Hepatitis C Investigation: Hospitals Involved - England
Bradford Hospitals NHS Trust
United Bristol Healthcare NHS Trust
Severn NHS Trust, Gloucester
Dewsbury Healthcare NHS Trust
Rotherham General Hospital
Northern General Hospital, Sheffield
Southend Hospitals NHS Trust
Central Middlesex Hospital, London
Princess Grace Hospital, London
Clementine Churchill Hospital, Harrow
The Department of Health investigation was launched after the surgeon in obstetrics and gynaecology, then based at a hospital in Boston in Lincolnshire, was found to have transmitted the virus to a patient in 1997.

Their initial survey of 1,500 people in four hospitals has found another three infected patients.

Now testing and counselling is to be extended to cover 2,500 patients at 12 other hospitals.

In a separate case, 2,000 people treated at three London hospitals are to be contacted after another health worker was found to have passed the virus to two patients.

The discovery is bound to prompt fresh calls for doctors to be routinely screened for harmful infections.

The government's deputy chief medical officer, Dr Pat Troop said: "The chances of a patient being infected with hepatitis C while they receive treatment are very small. Following two recent incidents, hospital trusts have checked thousands of records and identified any patient who may have been placed at risk.

Dr Pat Troop: 'Patient safety our concern'
"Anyone found to have been infected will be referred to a specialist for clinical advice.

"Our first priority is patient safety."

If not detected and treated, the virus can permanently damage the liver, even causing liver failure or cancer.

Hysterectomies or Caesarians

Women who underwent "exposure prone procedures" such as hysterectomies or Caesarian sections were thought to be at risk from the infected surgeon.
New Hepatitis C investigation: Hospitals affected - Wales
East Glamorgan Hospital
Neath Hospital
Morriston Hospital, Swansea
Withybush Hospital, Haverfordwest
Among the hospitals involved is Princess Grace Hospital in London, a private hospital favoured by celebrities and royalty.

The area in which the other infected health worker was involved is not yet clear.

All of the 4,500 will be contacted by letter to advise them of the risk.

Prior to this investigation, only three doctors worldwide were thought to have infected their patients while giving treatment.

Hepatitis C is an extremely infectious disease which attacks the liver.

It is normally passed through infected blood - for example to injecting drug users who share needles with someone who has the infection.

However, it can also be passed via sexual contact in bodily fluids.

There may be no immediate symptoms - in fact in 20% of patients the virus is cleared from the body without treatment within six months.

However, in the rest, the liver can be affected, sometimes up to 20 years later.

The patient may develop jaundice - which manifests itself as a yellowish tint to the skin and whites of the eyes.

The virus can eventually cause liver failure, requiring a transplant, or even liver cancer in some cases.

The increase in intravenous drug use in the 1970s and 1980s has contributed to a high number of hepatitis C infections, which have created a huge shortage of donor livers for transplantation.

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See also:

30 Mar 00 | Health
My hepatitis ordeal
30 Mar 00 | G-I
Hepatitis C
26 Oct 99 | Health
Blood tests in hepatitis alert
20 May 99 | Health
Drug users fuel hepatitis boom
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