How Do You Get Hepatitis C From Your Healthcare Provider?

October 6, 2011

One word: Carelessness. Another: Cheapness.

It’s a bad time to be practicing medicine in Pennsylvania, as two different incidents have resulted in Hepatitis C transmission making the news.

The first occured as a somewhat isolated incident. A man receiving a kidney transplant in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, received a kidney infected with Hepatitis C. His girlfriend of 21 years was the donor, and during pre-screening she had tested positive for Hepatitis C (about 4 months before the transplant) but somehow the results were missed by hospital staff until after the transplant.

She suspects that she originally contracted hepatitis doing work as a nurse. How do you get hepaitis and other blood diseases as a nurse if you’re not sharing needles? It’s not uncommon for health care workers to come into contact with patient blood (even via other bodily fluids that may contain blood). Generally, anyone who works in the health care field should take extra precautions and ge tested somewhat regularly.

She had never had symptoms of Hep C, or otherwise felt ill.

The second incident occured at a clinic that had been reusing needles for prostate biopsies. How do you get hepatitis? Needle sharing is one of the most common ways the disease is spread…especially when patients don’t know they’re getting a re-used needle, as is occasionally the case in health care centers.

Usually needles get reused when drug-addicted staff pre-use them for the painkillers, and then refill them with saline. In the clinic located in Fulton County, PA, the needles were knowingly reused. It seems from their statement that at least some are denying knowledge of what happened, but that others had taken used needles and “reprocessed [them] using a detergent scrub, sterilized [them] and then reused [the needles] in our office”.

Clearly, the needles weren’t steralized. Second, even if they were, each use of a needle can significantly blunt it. How many times were the needles reused? With each use, they would have become more degraded and pourous, making sterlizing much more difficult.

How could medical professionals not understand how you get Hepatitis C? Transmission occured in 2006, before the economy crashed, so it’s hard to sympathize, although they deserve credit for sending a letter to patients urging them to get tested once they realized they had caused Hepatitis C transmission.

All needles are one use. Do not be afraid to politely question your health care practitioners. And keep your immune system strong—not everyone who is exposed to Hepatitis C contracts the disease.

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