Sunday 23 October 2016

Clodagh Sheehy: Mere mention of the Hepatitis C virus awakens bad memories

Published 21/11/2012 | 13:44

THE possibility that a whole new batch of mothers could be infected with deadly Hepatitis C is sending shivers down the spines of women across the country.

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Today’s revelation that a doctor with the infection may have treated hundreds of women has brought the horror of 18 years ago sharply back into focus.

That was when it first emerged that the State had poisoned 1,600 of its citizens with the life-threatening infection through contaminated blood products.

The biggest group infected were haemophiliacs and mothers who were given an injection during childbirth to stop them having babies who needed an emergency blood transfusion at birth to save their lives.

Some people died.

Others were left struggling to cope with liver damage and the myriad side-effects, and the daily challenge of making sure they didn’t pass on the infection to family members.

The hardship caused by the illness and the added agony of the victims’ long battle for justice were dramatised in the TV film, No Tears, starring Oscar Winner Brenda Fricker.

Of course, the risk of a doctor passing the virus onto a patient is very small in comparison with the risk attached to pumping infected blood into a person.

But who would not be concerned, no matter how small the risk?

The big question to be asked now is: have women, many of them giving birth, been treated by an obstetrician-gynaecologist infected with this deadly virus?

Could a health worker carrying the Hepatitis C infection slip through the net to treat patients and quite literally put their lives at risk?

There’s a chance that he only became infected after he finished working with patients – though it’s unlikely it would be discovered that quickly.

It is simply not good enough for the HSE to say it tests its own staff and that outside agencies are required to test their own staff.

The stakes are too high to take such a risk, particularly in view of the disgraceful experience of the past.

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