The risk of a surgeon acquiring the hepatitis C virus through occupational exposure is dependant on 3 factors: The prevalence of hepatitis C infection in the patient population; the probability of a percutaneous injury causing viral transmission; and the incidence of percutaneous injury during surgery.
A study, published in Gut have investigated the risk of hepatitis C virus transmission from patients to surgeons in two North Glasgow hospitals.
The research team estimated the prevalence of hepatitis C virus amongst the patient population and used this data to estimate the risk of viral transmission to surgeons.
The prevalence of hepatitis C infection in the patient population was evaluated by anonymous testing of samples from male surgical patients, aged 16–49 years, from 1996 to 1997. These data were then adjusted for age and sex.
The research team then derived the risk of transmission of hepatitis C virus to surgeons using published data on the incidence of percutaneous injury during surgery and the probability of percutaneous injury transmitting the virus.
The estimated probability of hepatitis C transmission from a patient to an uninfected surgeon was 0.001–0.032% per annum. Over a 35 year career this works ot as a 0.035–1.12% risk of viral transmission.
| The estimated prevalence of anti-HCV infection for all adult patients in the two hospitals combined was 1.4%|
The prevalence of hepatitis C viral infection was particularly high in the patient population in the North Glasgow area.
The authors of the study conclude. “The risk of an individual surgeon acquiring hepatitis C through occupational exposure is low, even in an area with an extremely high prevalence of viral infection among its injecting drug using population”