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July 20, 2000
Hepatitis C a Greater Threat to Healthcare Workers Than HIV
ATLANTA (Reuters Health) .The risk that
healthcare workers will become infected with hepatitis C virus (Hepatitis C Virus)
following an accidental needlestick is 20 to 40 times greater than their
risk of HIV infection, according to data presented here at the
International Conference on Emerging Infectious Disease. The meeting was
sponsored by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the
American Society for Microbiology.
“HIV has driven healthcare safety initiatives for
years," Dr. Robert T. Ball pointed out in an interview with Reuters
Health during the meeting. "We need to change our educational focus" to
address the risk of exposure to Hepatitis C Virus, he said.
Ball, an epidemiologist from the South
Carolina Department of Health, polled 66 healthcare facilities in South
Carolina, gathering data on Hepatitis C Virus and HIV in cases where healthcare
workers were exposed to blood or body fluids.
Responses from 53 hospitals (80%)
revealed that 1 ,668 healthcare workers had been exposed to either Hepatitis C Virus
or HIV in 1998. Of the patients involved, 1 ,451 had been tested for Hepatitis C Virus
and 1 ,508 had been tested for HIV. Overall, 5.2% were infected with
Hepatitis C Virus and 2.3% were infected with HIV.
These rates are "significantly higher than the
general population at 1.5% and 0.3%, respectively," the researchers
note. Because Hepatitis C Virus is more prevalent in the general population than HIV,
Bell said that it is logical that it is a greater threat to healthcare
workers who experience needlesticks, yet the data suggest that Hepatitis C Virus is
less often tested for after accidental needlesticks than HIV. “ We have
started a healthcare worker safety unit, as well as a statewide registry
and coalition to raise awareness," Bell said. 'It is important that both
private and public health providers be made aware of the risk, and above
all that all source patient providers be tested for hepatitis C."