TWO more women have been found to have contracted hepatitis C from a healthcare worker who had the disease without realising it, while working at a Gwent hospital.

The newly-identified cases bring to four the number of women to whom the worker unknowingly passed the blood-borne virus which, if untreated, can cause inflammation of the liver, liver disease, and liver cancer.

Thy were identified during a major testing programme launched by Aneurin Bevan Health Board in September, to find out if anyone else treated by the healthcare worker at Caerphilly District Miners’ Hospital from May 1984-July 2003, had been infected by them.

The programme was launched after initial investigations confirmed two cases linked to the healthcare worker, who does not know when or how they contracted hepatitis C, and who was only diagnosed after retirement. More than 5,500 women were identified as having had, or potentially had, treatment from the healthcare worker, in obstetrics and gynaecology. Around 5,000 were from the Aneurin Bevan Health Board area.

The others were from others parts of Wales and the UK, where the healthcare worker had worked prior to coming to Gwent.

The women were traced following an exhaustive trawl through patients’ and hospital records that lasted several months.

All were invited, by letter, to have a blood test to determine whether they had hepatitis C, and if they did, if it was passed on by the healthcare worker.

More than 4,500 calls were made to a special helpline, and in Gwent 3,100 women had a blood test, out of 3,311 UK-wide.

“The four women now known to have had hepatitis C transmission from the former healthcare worker are being offered care and support by our specialist services,” said Dr Gill Richardson, the health board’s director of public health. “We understand that this is a very difficult and distressing time for them and we would ask that everyone respects their need for compassion and confidentiality. We are thankful that we have been able to reassure other women tested and are grateful to all the patients who came forward to take the test.”

Women who received a letter but have not yet come forward to have a blood test are still able to do so.

l Hepatitis C was only identified in the late 1980s. In most cases it does not have any symptoms, so most people do not realise they have it.