Clinic may have concealed hepatitis C outbreak

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Clinic may have concealed hepatitis C outbreak

The government is investigating a clinic that may have shared patients’ needles and covered up a hepatitis C outbreak that resulted from this dangerous practice.

Starting today, health authorities will call in 11,306 people who received treatment from JS Clinic in Dongjak District, southern Seoul, in 2011 and 2012 for a checkup on hepatitis C, hepatitis B, HIV and syphilis. The wide epidemiologic investigation comes amid rising suspicion that the clinic shared needles between patients, which is the most common way to become infected with these diseases.

Even after treatment, the viruses that cause hepatitis B and C can remain in the body and result in chronic illnesses, which explains why patients from four to five years ago are being called for examination.

Especially with chronic hepatitis C, the viral infection can last a lifetime and lead to serious liver problems, including cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) or liver cancer, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The disease spreads when blood from a person infected with the hepatitis C virus enters the body of someone who is not infected.

Since March, health authorities began questioning the clinic, formerly Seoul Hyundai Clinic, on suspicions of covering up a hepatitis C outbreak.

When 923 people who visited the clinic in 2012 were called in for an antibody test, 163 (17.7 percent) tested positive. Among the 537 people from 2013 who were examined, 71 (13.2 percent) turned out to be positive.

A person tests positive when he or she comes into contact with the virus at least once is his or her life and subsequently has the related antibodies. A separate test is conducted to confirm whether the person still has the virus in their bloodstream.

One reason why JS Clinic was able to cover up the possible breakout is that, by law, it didn’t have to report its handling of hepatitis C patients to the government. An official from the Health and Welfare Ministry said authorities are pushing to change the current system by the end of this year.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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