A surgeon who did not know he had hepatitis B unknowingly passed on the virus to at least two of his patients while performing joint replacement surgeries in 2009. The surgeon first became aware that he had the virus when he underwent routine testing for blood borne diseases after having stuck himself with a needle. The surgeon likely had hepatitis B for some time without showing symptoms since he had emigrated from a country with a high prevalence of the disease.
After discovering the doctor had hepatitis B, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the hospital where the surgeon worked began to investigate in an effort to identify and test the patients the surgeon had treated during the nine months he had worked at the hospital.
Two hundred thirty two patients were tested and two were found to have tested positive for a hepatitis B virus genetically identical to the surgeon’s. Since the virus was genetically identical to the surgeon’s it is likely that these two patients caught it from the doctor. In addition, six other patients who had hepatitis B in the past may have been infected with hepatitis B from the doctor, but because they did not currently have the virus in their blood it is far from certain.
It is not clear how the virus was passed from the surgeon to his patients. The surgeon always wore two sets of gloves while performing surgery and hepatitis B is transmitted through contact with bodily fluid. There has been speculation that tiny tears in the gloves developed during surgery which would have allowed the virus to pass from the doctor to the patient. However the surgeon would have also have had to have a cut on his hands as well.
Surgeons and other doctors need to know whether they are infected with diseases that can be transmitted to patients during treatment. Safety to patients also means doctors looking after their own health. Regular screenings for blood borne illnesses could potentially help prevent patients from contracting a fatal disease.
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