One in 10 at risk of Hep C ignores test call
Infected surgeon worked on patients
Published 06/09/2010 | 05:00
More than one in 10 of the hundreds of former hospital patients exposed to the potentially fatal virus hepatitis C has failed to respond to a call to come forward for testing.
A national alert was raised last May after it emerged that 454 patients treated in Galway University Hospital, Mayo General Hospital and Letterkenny General Hospital were operated on by a surgeon with the killer virus.
They were sent letters and asked to avail of a test to determine if the surgeon had passed on the virus during surgery.
"Almost 90pc of patients have been screened. Arrangements are in place for the remainder of the patients who have accepted offers to be screened at their earliest convenience," a Health Service Executive (HSE) spokesperson told the Irish Independent.
The spokesperson confirmed that none of those tested to date had tested positive for the virus that affects the liver.
However, renewed efforts are being made to try to re-contact the remaining former patients who have been sent letters but have not responded.
Revelations that a surgeon who worked at the hospitals between 2004 and 2008 had the infection provoked the recall of patients.
The HSE found out about the doctor's infection as early as July 2009, but only notified patients in May.
The HSE insisted this was necessary because thousands of patient files had to be examined before identifying the people who should be recalled for the test.
The fear is now that the addresses of more than 40 people may be incorrect, although it is also possible a number of these do not want to be tested.
A spokesperson said the hospitals were guided by an expert advisory group who decided what category of patient should be recalled for the test. Public health specialists said the risk to patients was "very remote" but screening was nevertheless necessary.
Hundred have since come forward during the summer for the single blood test to rule out infection after being invited to go to their GP or a HSE West clinic. The results were due to be returned to patients and their GPs as quickly as possible -- no later than seven days after the test.
The surgeon, who was only described as a healthcare worker, was involved in a number of surgical procedures at the hospitals.
Hepatitis C can lead to chronic liver disease, cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer. It is spread when blood or body fluids from an infected person enters the body of another, and the most common form of transmission is through the sharing of needles by drug abusers and contaminated blood or blood products.
Injury from a needle or sharp instrument contaminated with infected blood can also pass on the virus. Healthcare workers may be infected by patients during their work.
The HSE said that from July 2008 all new staff starting a post in the public health services, where they might be required to be involved in an "exposure-prone procedure", had to provide evidence via the occupational health service that they were immune to hepatitis.
In the absence of producing the findings of this test, a potential member of staff will not be employed in a post whose duties involve these procedures.
"No appointment will be made until the individual's immune status is established," said the spokesperson.
If a member of staff gets infected while working, a local review will be undertaken and, if required, national expert committees are set up.