Doctor questioned for HCV spread found dead

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Doctor questioned for HCV spread found dead

The director of the Hanyang Orthopedic Clinic in Wonju, Gangwon, who was being investigated for possible connection to the spread of the hepatitis C virus (HCV), was found dead Friday, hanging in a bathroom at his house.

The wife of the director found her husband, surnamed Rho, hanging in the bathroom and reported it to police at 7:50 a.m. on Friday, police in Wonju said. Rho was transported to a hospital but did not survive. No note or last will was found.

The Hanyang Orthopedic Clinic was identified as the place of origin of a mass infection of hepatitis C in Wonju last year, and Rho was waiting for a second summons from police for further questioning.

Rho was first summoned by the police on Feb. 29 as a suspect in possible illegal medical procedures, which led to the mass infection of HCV. He was investigated for 10 hours in a testimony recording room with his attorney present.

The police investigated whether Rho reused syringes used in platelet-rich plasma (PRP) treatment, which utilizes platelets from patient’s own blood to rebuild damaged tendon or cartilage, leading to the spread of HCV. The police have also been questioning about 30 nurses and assistant nurses who worked at the clinic and participated administering the treatment.

Last April, after a series of hepatitis C infections were reported among patients who underwent PRP treatment at the Hanyang Orthopedic Clinic, Rho closed the clinic a month later and moved to another hospital.

“We will continue our investigation on other workers of the clinic,” said a police officer. “As the doctor in question is dead, we will end further investigation against him.”

The Ministry of Health and Welfare has examined 1,545 patients who had visited the clinic and announced that as of Feb. 24, 217 patients had been infected with HCV.

The Wonju government has put together a special team to conduct an epidemiologic study of the mass infection.

Among the infected patients, 95 people tested positive for hepatitis C RNA, meaning they immediately needed treatment. Some have recovered after receiving treatment.

However, the closure of the clinic, and now the death of Rho, makes it difficult for the police to investigate the causal link between the clinic’s possible illicit activities and the mass infection, which will in turn make it difficult for infected patients to seek compensation.

BY PARK JIN-HO [shin.sooyeon@joongang.co.kr]

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