A clinic in China’s Liaoning province is suspected of infecting dozens of patients with the liver disease hepatitis C. According to the BBC, some 120 patients have been screened for exposure, 95 of whom are now hospitalized and believed to be infected.
The Chinese news agency Xinhua reported that police in the city of Donggang were alerted by a tip that patients of a private varicose vein removal clinic were being exposed to the hepatitis C virus (HCV), which, according to the Centers for Disease Control, can lead to liver cancer and the scarring of the liver known as cirrhosis. Municipal health authorities told Xinhua that they are investigating whether “improper medical conduct” has led to the infections.
HCV is mainly spread through exposure contaminated blood, although it can also be transmitted sexually. The illness’ severity varies from patient to patient, ranging from a few weeks’ illness to chronic lifelong health complications to death from liver failure.
Infections come in two types, acute and chronic. Acute hepatitis C is a short-term illness that develops within six months of exposure to HCV. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), fever, loss of appetite, fatigue and abdominal pain.
Acute hepatitis C infection usually leads to chronic hepatitis C, which often leads to liver cancer, cirrhosis and, in some cases, liver failure and death. Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver disease in the U.S. and kills approximately 15,000 people in this country per year.
The CDC estimates that for every 100 people infected with hepatits C, 75 to 80 will develop chronic hepatitis C. 60 to 70 will develop chronic liver disease and 5 to 20 will develop cirrhosis over the next 20 to 30 years. One to five of that 100 will die of cirrhosis or liver cancer.
The scandal has echoes of the crisis that struck Henan province in the 1990s, in which hundreds of thousands of people who sold their blood to private agencies were infected with HIV. Citizens of mostly poor, overcrowded Henan were selling their blood to pharmaceutical companies for use in blood products.
Local officials and pharmaceutical companies profited as thousands of farmers and their families sold their blood for about $4 a pint. Those who donated were at extremely high risk of contracting HIV, as the blood was extracted with the use of dirty needles.
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