Countries struggle with hepatitis C contamination

BMJ 1995; 310 doi: (Published 18 February 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;310:417

In France a worker infected with the hepatitis C virus more than 10 years ago has won a lawsuit against a blood transfusion centre in Marseilles. He was awarded an immediate sum of Fr 80 000 (pounds sterling10 000) while the full amount of compensation is decided. In France, only about 20 people have been compensated out of more than 100 000 people estimated to have acquired the infection from transfusions.

Compensation for patients infected by blood or blood products has become a hot political topic in many countries. Approaches to the problem vary, though the compulsory screening of donated blood is now widespread. Here we examined how five countries—France, Germany, Australia, the US and Britain—are tackling the problem.

In all five countries screening of blood donations for hepatitis C has been compulsory since 1990-1. But many people who received blood donations before that time could have been infected.

In Britain the Department of Health estimates that 6000 people have been infected with the virus by the use of blood products, some 3000 of whom have haemophilia. In Australia official estimates suggest that up to 200000 out of a population of 18 million are infected with hepatitis C virus, though figures are not available for the numbers of infections linked to blood transfusions. In Germany no estimates are available of the number of people infected through blood transfusions, but before compulsory screening was introduced in 1990 the risk was thought to have been 1 in 5000.

Recipients of blood transfusions in Germany are offered free testing for hepatitis C virus if their doctor considers it necessary. Free …

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