Friday 31 March 2000
Hepatitis alert as doctors infect surgery patients
By Celia Hall, Medical Editor
ABOUT 4,500 patients who have undergone surgery in hospitals across England and Wales were told yesterday that they may have been infected with hepatitis C.
Two doctors carrying the liver disease unknowingly infected six of their adult patients during operations, the Department of Health said. Two had been treated successfully but four were still receiving treatment. The patients had surgery at 16 hospitals going back to 1978 when the first of two doctors began working in the NHS.
He is a senior consultant obstetrician and gynecologist from the Pilgrim Hospital, Boston, Lincolnshire. His hepatitis C was discovered after a patient caught the disease. As a result, 1,400 women were contacted in October and tested. Three more were found to be infected. Another 2,500 of his patients were being contacted spanning the full length of time he had worked for the NHS.
In the second more recent case, another "health care worker" was identified as having hepatitis C after two surgery patients were diagnosed with it last year. As
result, 2,000 patients who had operations at three London hospitals between 1994 and 1999 - including two private hospitals - were being contacted.
The health department would only confirm that the health worker was "involved in surgical procedures". Prof Howard Thomas, chairman of the advisory group on hepatitis C, said they were now discussing the screening of front-line NHS staff for hepatitis C.
Dr Pat Troop, deputy chief medical officer, said: "About 4,500 patients in England, Wales and London may have been infected and at risk of hepatitis C as a result of hospital treatment. Following two recent incidents, hospital trusts have checked thousands of records and identified any patient at risk. They have written to those patients to offer support and blood tests.
"Anyone found to have been infected will be referred to a specialist." Dr Troop said some children were among those being notified but the proportion was very small. He said that it was more usual for doctors and nurses to be at risk of catching hepatitis C from their patients.
Hepatitis C is a "silent" virus carried in the blood and usually transmitted by blood-to-blood exposure, which can happen in an operation if surgeons cut themselves. Other transmission routes are needle sharing among drug addicts and possibly sexual intercourse.
Antonia Craig, from Southampton, a patient recalled in October, demanded that all health workers be screened for hepatitis C. In Mrs Craig's case, a blood test showed she had not been infected. She said: "It was a very worrying time as I had had a son since I saw this surgeon and I was worried that I might have passed it on to him."
"I would like to see all medical staff tested twice a year for any transmissible disease. It's not just for patients but for doctors too." The Haemophilia Society, which is seeking compensation for NHS
patients infected with hepatitis C, said it was concerned about the