45 infected with HCV at clinic

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45 infected with HCV at clinic

The number of patients who were infected with hepatitis C after being treated at a clinic in southwestern Seoul has increased to 45 people on Monday, health authorities said.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) initially revealed on Friday that 18 patients who were treated at the Dana Clinic in Sinjeong-dong, Yangcheon District, were found to have been infected with the hepatitis C virus, or HCV.

The Yancheon District Health Center received a tip about the clinic on Thursday, leading to a full-scale investigation. As a result, the CDC discovered that all patients infected with the virus had received intravenous injections at the clinic.

“There is suspicion that the clinic may have used the same needle more than once,” a CDC official said.

An official also said the clinic is suspected of contaminating IV bags in the process of mixing drugs. Furthermore, the clinic may have tried to conceal the fact that the patients became infected with HCV.

The HCV infections present in the patients all appear to be the same strain, indicating a single source, according to health authorities.

The CDC is in the process of checking 2,269 patients who visited the clinic since it opened in May 2008. Over the weekend, the Ministry of Health and Welfare discovered 27 additional HCV patients after testing 200 frequent visitors to the clinic.

Of the 45 HCV patients diagnosed so far, 15 were found to have been infected recently while the others were infected in the past. Once HCV infects the body, the antibodies will always be present in the blood.

But officials said none of the infected patients have shown any signs of major complications so far.

Of those found to have been infected, 25 patients had visited the clinic frequently until recently.

The Yancheon District Health Center ordered the clinic to suspend operations to prevent further infections. The center has asked patients who have visited the clinic to contact the center or the CDC, and is continuing to check patients to diagnose any other possible cases of HCV.

The general medical clinic first opened in 2008 under a different name but changed its name to Dana Clinic in August 2010. The clinic saw around 20 patients a day, according to the CDC.

The CDC added that if it finds the clinic has violated any medical or related laws during its investigation, it will take appropriate legal measures.

HCV is a blood-borne virus that can infect the liver and cause cirrhosis of the liver, liver cancer and other conditions. Sharing needles and syringes is the most common way HCV is transmitted.

However, patients can remain symptom-free for a long time and be unaware of their infection. The incubation period is up to 150 days.

Around 15 percent of Korean liver cancer patients developed their condition from chronic HCV, according to health officials.

According to the World Health Organization, antiviral medicines can cure around 90 percent of HCV infections.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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