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Monday April 12, 2010

Abortion Clinic Anesthetist Accused of Infecting 12 Women with Hepatitis C

By James Tillman

MELBOURNE, Australia, April 12, 2010 ( — At least twelve women have been infected by Hepatitis C after being treated by the same anesthetist in a suburban Melbourne abortion facility. The Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria and the police are investigating to see whether the anesthetist deliberately infected the women.

Dr. John Carnie, Victoria’s chief health officer, said that it was difficult to imagine how so many patients could be accidentally infected.

“Needle stick injuries are one method of possible transmission,” he said. “It is difficult to identify how this could happen with more than, say, one or two patients.”

The infections occurred at Croydon Day Surgery, Victoria’s only late-term abortion facility, between June 2008 and December 2009. The state Department of Health initially noticed a cluster of three Hepatitis C-infected women who had attended the clinic, and found the others after further investigation.

The Department of Health investigated the clinic’s infection control procedures, but found no problems. After staff members were tested for the virus, however, all were found to be negative, except for an anesthetist, Dr. James Latham Peters. Tests confirmed that his hepatitis C strain matched the strain of the 12 infected women.

The Board had previously placed restrictions on Dr. Peters’ license, limiting Dr. Peters’ access to various drugs, after it found that he had a substance-abuse problem. After placing Dr. Peters on its program for substance-abusing doctors and making him submit to drug tests for a year, however, it removed these restrictions and also concealed any publicly accessible record to protect his privacy.

Croydon Day Surgery is part of Planned Parenthood of Australia Group.

Dr. Peters worked at two other clinics in Melbourne during the same period that the twelve women were infected. The Medical Board suspended him from practice on February 15.

Dr. John Carnie said that there was good reason to believe no infections had stemmed from any of Dr. Peters’ work outside of Croydon Day Surgery. Investigators are attempting to contact those whom he treated in Croydon Day Surgery, however.

Hepatitis C tends to be spread by blood-to-blood or sexual contact and attacks the liver, in some cases causing cirrhosis and liver cancer. The most common way it is spread is by the sharing of needles. All cases of Hepatitis C must be reported to Victoria’s communicable disease register, due to its infectious and dangerous nature.

In the last three days, more than 700 women who have been to Croydon Day Surgery have called a Department of Human Services hotline for those who may have been infected. It remains uncertain how many people may have been infected.

“This whole episode is going to clearly cause a great deal of concern and distress in the community,” said Dr. Carnie. “I don’t want to add to that concern by starting to speculate on total numbers.”

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