Observations The week in medicine

Bad blood

BMJ 2007; 334 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39195.621528.59 (Published 26 April 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;334:879
  1. Rebecca Coombes, journalist, London
  1. rcoombes{at}bmjgroup.com

    An inquiry has begun into the infection of thousands of people with haemophilia in the United Kingdom who contracted hepatitis and HIV in the 1970s and 1980s. Rebecca Coombes brings the story up to date

    What's the story

    An independent inquiry into how thousands of UK people with haemophilia came to be infected with contaminated blood in the 1970s and 1980s opened last week. The opening was rather dramatically marked by allegations aired on the BBC that UK doctors ignored warnings that could have prevented these patients becoming infected with HIV and hepatitis C. Several patients also claimed that they were unknowingly placed in trials to test the infectivity of blood products, were secretly tested for HIV infection, and were not informed of positive results until years later in some cases.

    The story has been unfolding for decades. In the 1970s and 1980s in the United Kingdom 4670 patients with haemophilia were exposed to hepatitis C through contaminated NHS blood and blood products, and of this group 1243 were also exposed to HIV. So far 1757 of these patients have died, and many more are now terminally ill. Haemophilia, the condition in which one of the clotting proteins in blood (most commonly factor VIII) is either missing or insufficient, is treated by injection of the missing protein. The protein can now be created through recombinant technology. However, in the period when the infections occurred it was derived from the pooled plasma of many …

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