35 cases of hepatitis C among Melbourne abortion clinic patients

Over the last few months there has been a rise in hepatitis C cases at an abortion clinic in Melbourne. In a new development 13 new cases have been diagnosed. This brings the total count to 35. The Victorian police are investigating the source of the infections. The link between the Croydon Day Surgery and the cluster was first revealed in April, when there were only 12 cases.

Dr. James Latham Peters, a practicing anesthesiologist at the clinic, has been alleged to have infused the infections in his patients following which his license was confiscated by the Department of Health in February.

The health authorities are tracking down 2,200 women who visited the clinic since 2006. They were recommended to get checked against for hepatitis C infection. Interestingly the strain of the virus found in these 35 women is same as that of Dr. Peters himself. In March, Dr. Peters was deferred by the Medical Practitioners Board. Earlier in 1996, he was charged for having forged as many as 100 prescriptions.

A class action against Dr. Peters is on the way. Slater and Gordon medical law expert Paula Shelton is representing those involved and says a lot more people may be affected. She said, “From the numbers we initially had, the numbers of people who've been tested and the number of people who were affected, certainly suggested that we would have a lot more… I guess from the point of view of the legal action, it just becomes more and more improbable that there's an innocent explanation for these infections.” She also called for investigation into such likely cases at other clinics where Dr. Peters practiced. “This was a doctor who worked at a number of clinics as indeed many anesthetists do, and yet only the patients of this clinic have been identified as being at risk…Now there has to be a reason for that, and my clients ask me every day what that is and I don't have anything to tell them,” she said.

According to Victoria's chief health officer, Dr John Carnie, Dr. Peters could have been the source of the infection. “In total, we have now had 58 women who have been found to be positive for hepatitis C, and of these, 35 have hepatitis C virus that appears to be genetically linked to the cluster…That is, they appear to be very closely linked to the virus of the doctor who has been implicated as part of this outbreak,” he explained.

According to Helen McNeil, the head of Hepatitis C Victoria it is “incredibly awful for these women who have been infected, but there's certainly no indication that there's more widespread problems.” She said, “This is an extremely isolated event with one particular health practitioner.”

However many disagree with Ms McNeil. Lorraine Long from the Medical Error Action Group says, “It never ceases to amaze me, the mistakes and things that go on, like this, but nothing happens…The malpractitioners are allowed to continue practising and if they don't they'll just move interstate and get registration through that medical board and continue on…They don't learn from their mistakes and there's no severe government control that will rein them in. And that's the failure.”

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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