Yesterday afternoon, Ottawa Public Health (OPH) held what was described as a hastily called press conference. The chief medical officer of health, Dr. Isra Levy, announced that 6,800 patients of an Ottawa clinic may be at risk of Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C or HIV.
According to the Vancouver Sun
, the problem came to light after a routine spot check of the clinic by the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons
. OPH has known about the situation for the past three months but justified the delay in making the information public because they had thousands of pages of records to go through to determine all the people that are at risk of infection. When the problem developed in unknown, so OPH went through records for the past 10 years.
No details were provided. The problem is believed to be confined to a single unnamed doctor who performed an unnamed procedure at one unnamed clinic. OPH says it is being secretive in order not to cause a panic.
At the press conference, Levy said
Even though the risk of infection to those who had the procedures related to this issue is very low, I wanted to ensure that affected patients are made aware of the situation, so they can consider being tested for these infections.
Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C are both viral diseases that cause swelling or inflammation of the liver. Although these viruses, along with HIV, can be transmitted in several ways, they can be spread by the exchange of bodily fluids including blood. In a clinical setting, a patient is at risk if they are treated with medical instruments that have not been properly sterilized after use on a previous patient with a virus.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine
, Hepatitis B can be controlled by careful monitoring of the liver and other bodily functions. Some people who have the virus go on to develop liver cancer or cirrhosis of the liver. These conditions can prove to be fatal in the absence of a liver transplant.
Hepatitis C is more difficult to treat and simple monitoring is not sufficient. Patients must be put on medications whose side effects include nausea, vomiting and depression. Like Hepatitis B, this virus can also lead to cancer of the liver and cirrhosis.
HIV, which once automatically led to a death sentence, can be treated by a combination of drugs. However, these drugs do not always prevent the virus from becoming full blown AIDS. Complications from AIDS includes chronic wasting or weight loss, a variety of cancers and dementia.
It is difficult to understand how holding back the details of the problem will prevent panic. Instead of people who were treated with a named procedure at a named clinic panicking, residents of Ottawa who were treated at any area clinic during the past 10 years will panic.
Letters will be sent out next week to the patients concerned. After this is done, OPH will release more information to the public.
Those receiving letters are urged to go to their family doctors and be tested for Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV.
Currently there is no evidence that anyone treated at the clinic has contracted one of the three viruses.