MORE than 700 women in Gwent have been tested for hepatitis C since it was revealed that a now retired healthcare worker inadvertently passed on the virus to two patients.

Around 5,000 women are being contacted by letter by Aneurin Bevan Health Board and offered a test, the final letters likely to be received this weekend.

So far more than 2,500 recipients have contacted the health board, with close to 2,000 booking a test.

The health board revealed 10 days ago that a healthcare worker who retired in 2003 was subsequently found to have hepatitis C and was linked to cases in two patients.

The blood-borne virus, discovered in 1989, can cause liver inflammation and if untreated, chronic liver disease and very rarely, cancer.

The worker, unaware they had the virus during their career, does not know how they picked it up. They worked at Caerphilly District Miners' Hospital from May 1984-July 2003.

Around 500 women from other parts of Wales and the UK who also were treated, or may have been treated, by this healthcare worker during the 1970s and 1980s, have also been contacted.

The focus is on women who underwent major obstetric or gynaecological treatments with which the healthcare worker was involved, including caesarian sections, hysterectomies, and ovary removals.

More than 40 testing clinics are being held.

"Gradually, people are going through the process. We have contacted almost everyone now, and the last letters should be arriving this weekend," said Dr Gill Richardson, director of public health with the health board.

Staff have for months sifted through patients' and hospital records to try to identify the women they needed to contact based on the likelihood of their treatment involving this healthcare worker in potential blood-to-blood contact.

Dr Richardson said Wales' other health boards had been very helpful in tracing patients who have relocated since their treatments, while contact with the NHS in England has so far traced 84 patients who had moved across the border.

One hundred of the patients the health board determined that they needed to try to contact have proved very difficult to track down, but 70 of these have now been found.

"People may have emigrated, or deregistered with a GP and not re-registered," she said.

"We have been using birth records and even family tree websites. It has involved ultra-fine detective work."

* For hepatitis C information, visit or the Hepatitis C Trust at