Hunt begins for patients suspected of having hepatitis C

BMJ 1995; 310 doi: (Published 21 January 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;310:146

About 3000 former hospital patients who received blood transfusions before September 1991 are to be traced by health officials because they may be infected with hepatitis C virus. The junior health minister, Tom Sackville, said that the patients would be offered counselling and, if necessary, treatment.

All blood donations in Britain have been routinely tested for antibodies to hepatitis C virus since September 1991. But, said Mr Sackville, “Prior to that date some recipients of blood transfusions may have been inadvertently infected, although the chances of this in any one case are extremely small.”


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The hunt for those people thought to have been infected is being carried out on the recommendation of the Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Blood and Tissues for Transplantation. It will be masterminded by Dr Jeremy Metters, deputy chief medical officer. He will set up an ad hoc working party of experts to “draw up guidance on the procedures for undertaking the look back exercise and for counselling those identified as being at risk, as well as guidance on the treatment options available.”

Dr Metters has written to all general practitioners announcing the tracing exercise, which he hopes to complete by the end of the summer. He said: “Until recently there was no treatment to offer those who might be identified and it was believed that this exercise would have been technically very difficult.” Referring to the recent granting of a licence for interferon alfa for use in the treatment of chronic hepatitis C, however, Dr Metters added: “Following a pilot research study procedures have been established which make it possible to trace those at risk, and, more importantly, certain drugs have recently been licensed which may be suitable for the treatment of some of those involved. This look back programme will go ahead without delay.”

Tom Sackville said that he recognised that people might be worried if they received a blood transfusion before 1991, and he announced a special advice line for them to telephone. The number is 0800 716197.—CLAUDIA COURT, BMJ


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