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Healthcare workers at much greater risk of hep C

November 18, 2015

New analysis has found that healthcare workers are at a much greater risk of being exposed to hepatitis C, compared to the general population.

Figures published in the Occupational and Environmental Medicine journal, show that people in this profession are at a 60 per cent higher risk of contracting the life-changing condition than people in the general population. 

Unsurprisingly, the analysis suggested that healthcare workers whose job involved handling blood were at almost triple the risk of others. 

Even in regions like the US and Europe, where the general risk of contracting hepatitis C is relatively low, the risk for people in this profession was more than twice as likely as other individuals, according to the report.

Lead author of the study Claudia Westermann said contact with blood from needle stick injuries, for example, is associated with a risk of infection and continues to be the major threat to the health of healthcare workers.

Speaking to Reuters, Ms Westermann, who works at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany, said: “Exposure to blood cannot completely be avoided when using `safe’ instruments, as they reduce the risk of needle stick injuries but do not completely prevent them.” 

“Therefore blood borne virus infections will remain a threat to health care workers for some time to come.”

In order to assess the prevalence of hepatitis C among healthcare workers, the team looked at the findings of more than 40 published studies.

They found that the risk of health workers also doubled in North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, much like the US and Europe. However, the infection rates for healthcare professionals in Japan were similar to that of the general population.

The analysis also found that men were at a greater risk, with male health workers having triple the risk of contracting hepatitis C, while female workers had a 50 per cent greater risk than the rest of the population.

The data supported previous findings that highlight how nurses are the most at-risk profession in a hospital. According to the report, the risk of being exposed to hepatitis C was 70 per cent higher for nurses, while medical staff had 2.2 times the odds of getting hepatitis C and odds were 3.5 times greater for dentists.

Speaking to Reuters, Dr William Buchta, medical director of the occupational medicine practice at the Mayo Clinic, said it was unlikely, however, that health workers have unprotected sex or use injected drugs more often than the general population. This means that the risk is through inadvertent exposure while handling patients’ blood and other infectious fluids.

This, according to Dr Buchta, is common among healthcare workers and grossly under-reported, so exposure to infected patients is "a far more credible cause for this disparity".

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