Alert at Cornish hospital after retired worker found to have infectious virus
Female patients of a retired health worker are to be offered screening after it was discovered the individual unknowingly had a serious infectious virus while employed at a Westcountry hospital.
The unnamed obstetrics and gynaecology worker was employed at what was then the Royal General Hospital, Treliske – now the Royal Cornwall Hospital - for a brief period in the early 1980s.
However, a major alert was launched when it was found the worker had Hepatitis C, an infectious disease affecting tliver which if left untreated can occasionally lead to cancer.
Bosses at the Royal Cornwall Hospital urged women not to panic and said the chances of the disease being transmitted were very low.
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Interim Medical Director, Dr Duncan Browne said a ‘lookback’ exercise was under way to contact anyone who may have been affected.
“There are only a small number of patients we expect to be involved in the lookback exercise in Cornwall,” he said.
“The risk of infection is very low and patients are being offered testing as a precaution.”
The individual worked at 11 hospitals in England and others in Scotland and Northern Ireland during the 1970’s and early 1980’s.
This included two short periods at the obstetrics and gynaecology department at the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro between February 8 and March 19, 1983 and May 9 to June 21 1983.
As a precaution Public Health England will be contacting patients who may have undergone surgical procedures involving this healthcare worker.
The organisation said it would be writing to patients personally and giving details of a confidential helpline that will be made available to discuss whether they would like to have a blood test arranged at their GP practice.
Less than 400 women in England have so far been identified as having definitely or possibly had operations conducted by the affected healthcare worker.
In Wales, were the worker was employed at three hospitals for periods, two patients are known to have contracted the virus from the worker between 1984 and 2002, when the individual stopped clinical practice.
Hepatitis C is a virus which can lead to inflammation of the liver, causing chronic liver disease, including cirrhosis, and in some rare cases liver cancer.
It is generally a treatable condition, though in most cases the virus is asymptomatic with those infected generally unaware they have contracted the disease as they suffer no symptoms.
The virus is transmitted through blood-to-blood contact and cannot be transmitted by social contact, kissing or sharing food and drink.
Public Health England said there is only a small chance that a patient might acquire Hepatitis C virus infection through surgical contact with an infected healthcare worker.
The organisation said the risk was very low and could only occur if the healthcare worker is infectious and leads or assists in an operation or procedure on the patient.
However, even in such circumstances transmission is very rare.
Around 10,000 new Hepatitis C diagnoses are made in England each year and around 160,000 adults in England are estimated to be living with chronic hepatitis C virus infection.
The helpline number is 0800 121 4400 and it will be operational from 9am this morning until Thursday, September 12.
Anyone who requires further advice and support is available through the Hepatitis C Trust’s Helpline (0845 223 4424 or 020 7089 6221). Further information is available from The Hepatitis C Trust website, PHE’s Hepatitis C pages and the British Liver Trust website.