Hepatitis C alert for women treated at local hospitals

Former patients of Queen Charlottes and West Mid contacted

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Members of the public who want more information on Hepatitis C should call NHS Direct on 0845 54647 who will advise them about the condition and how to seek treatment if necessary.

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The Health Protection Agency has announced that a number of patients across the country who have been treated by a doctor now known to be carrying the Hepatitis C virus have been contacted to invite them for screening including some who have been treated at local hospitals.

They have co-ordinated a ‘lookback’, or patient notification, exercise involving more than 2000 former hospital patients in 25 NHS hospitals in England and two Health Boards in Scotland.

A doctor who had worked in obstetrics and gynaecology at the old Queen Charlotte's Hospital in Goldhawk Road between 1 April 1998 and 15 September 1998 has been diagnosed as suffering from the hepatitis C infection.

Seventy four women, who all gave birth by caesarean section or had a major gynaecological operation at the hospital during this period, have been asked to go to their GP and give a blood sample as there is a small risk they may have contracted Hepatitis C.

Sixty two of the women have been traced and letters have been sent to them and their GPs. One woman has moved abroad and eleven women are still being traced by the national NHS tracing system.

The doctor also worked in gynaecology and maternity at West Middlesex University Hospital for two weeks in December 1991. Only two patients are potentially at risk of having contracted the disease. Both of these patients have been written to personally to offer them screening for the condition plus advice and counselling on the possible need for treatment.

Dr Fortune Ncube, a Consultant Epidemiologist from the Health Protection Agency’s Centre for Infections, said, “I want to emphasise that the risk of infection is very small and that screening is being offered purely as a precautionary measure. Although the chances of having been infected are very small, I would advise patients to take a test if they have received a notification letter. People can have hepatitis C without knowing it and modern treatment can prevent the onset of severe liver disease for many patients.”

Like most people who are infected with hepatitis C the health care worker had had no symptoms and was unaware of the infection. As soon as infection was diagnosed, the health care worker was immediately transferred to other health care duties where there was no risk at all to patients.

Hepatitis C virus is a virus which can lead to inflammation of the liver. In most cases, the virus is asymptomatic, that is, most infected people do not realise they have the infection and suffer no noticeable symptoms. However, in other people, symptoms can include feeling sick and suffering abdominal pain and jaundice. The infection can cause chronic liver disease, and, very rarely, cancer of the liver.

Some of those patients infected can become carriers of hepatitis C virus, which can lead to an increased lifetime risk of liver disease. That is why it is important for doctors to test the blood of patients who may be at risk of having become infected. Hepatitis C virus is mainly transmitted through blood-to-blood contact, and more rarely through sexual intercourse. The virus cannot be transmitted through social contact, kissing or sharing food and drink.

In recent years increasingly effective treatments for hepatitis C have become available. Combination therapy can lead to upwards of 80% of people with certain strains clearing the virus.

April 19, 2005