Hepatitis C from anesthetist case assumes new proportions

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According to Victoria’s chief health officer yesterday, another 1,100 people would be screened for hepatitis C that could have come from contact with an infected doctor at more than one clinic.

Police raided five Melbourne addresses including the Hawthorn home of anesthetist James Latham Peters and two buildings at the Croydon abortion clinic, where 41 of his former patients are suspected of having contracted the strain of the virus he carries. The police also searched homes in Toorak and Croydon Hills that belonged to two “persons associated with the management of the surgery”.

Six months earlier the matter came into notice after chief health officer John Carnie first alerted the public to the Croydon cases. It is unclear why the raids were undertaken now. Dr Carnie has maintained till now that patients from other facilities where Dr Peters practiced were not at risk, as no hepatitis C clusters had been detected through the Health Department's infectious diseases surveillance. But now he says 1066 male and female patients would need to be screened for the disease.

Dr. Carnie still assured that there is “no evidence of transmission.” He added, “The only reason I have decided to extend this [process] is so that in a few months' time I can stand here and say to the public I have done absolutely everything I can to confirm the fact that this problem has been confined to Croydon.”

According to opposition health spokesman David Davis, “Their failure to act on these matters earlier needs immediate explanation. It's clear that this has been mishandled and Victorians are entitled to assurance that no one has been put at risk.”

The 900 patients who attended Fertility Control in East Melbourne between January 2008 and November 2009, 150 patients from St Albans Endoscopy who were treated between February and September 2008, and 16 who attended the Western Day Surgery in Sunshine in March 2008 are presently being traced.

To date more than 3,000 patients treated between 2006 and last year at the Croydon Day Surgery have already been tested.

The raids came in at 7am after which Croydon surgery was cordoned off. The search was expected to go well into the night and a temporary shelter was set up on site. Detective Senior Sergeant Paul Robotham, from Taskforce Clays which is leading the investigation, would not say if charges were imminent.

Dr Peters has a history of pethidine addiction and has been suspended by the Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria in February.

The case has already reached legal proportions with Paula Shelton, medical negligence lawyer with Slater and Gordon representing 37 women who were treated at Croydon and had tested positive for Dr Peters's strain of hepatitis C. They are moving against the Medical Board and the clinic. She said, “I thought it was very odd that they were saying because they hadn't had a cluster of cases [of hepatitis C] that patients weren't at risk. The vast majority of people don't get sick, they're asymptomatic, and so I didn't think it was reliable to say that just because there hasn't been any diagnoses there haven't been any infections…So I suspected that they knew something else about Croydon or the other clinics.”

A government spokeswoman maintains that opposition’s criticisms were unfounded. “The chief health officer and the Department of Health are working diligently and in the best interests of all affected patient,” she said.

According to Victorian Premier John Brumby, “It's a very disturbing case and it's a very serious case…I think police are getting together as much information and as much evidence as they can…Our agencies and the Department of Health, there's been a huge amount of work done to basically track down any woman who've had contact with the doctor concerned and we've made considerable progress in that regard.”

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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