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Health worker's diagnosis prompts HIV scare in Alberta

A former Alberta health-care worker has been diagnosed with HIV and hepatitis C, raising fears of infection among 200 surgery patients.

The neurosurgery worker, whose name and specific job haven't been identified, now works in another undisclosed province and came forward to that province's officials after being diagnosed.

That triggered a review of every patient interaction the worker was a part of, including approximately 200 neurosurgery patients in the Edmonton area between July, 2006, and March, 2009.

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All the affected patients have been identified and many contacted, said Gerald Predy, senior medical officer of health with Alberta Health Services.

"I just want to emphasize - we did not find any breach of infection control practices, so we don't anticipate any major risk, if any risk, to the patients involved," Dr. Predy said.

The patients can all seek HIV and hep-C tests if they choose to, he said.

Theoretically, it is possible for a surgeon or nurse to infect a patient, "but it's very rare," Dr. Predy said. But no patient has reported being diagnosed with the disease.

It's impossible to tell whether the employee was infected while working in Alberta or afterward, Dr. Predy said.

AHS officials declined to say what province the employee now works in. It will be up to that employee's provincial professional licensing body - for instance, a college of physicians and surgeons - to determine whether the person can keep working with the infection.

"I think this is an example of the system working the way it should," Dr. Predy added. "We don't want people to panic just because they've had surgery in one of our facilities during that period of time, because it's only this group of about 200 and we've contacted well over half of them. The ones we haven't contacted, we've left messages. So if people haven't been contacted by one of our staff or have a message on their phone, it hasn't affected their particular procedure."

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The agency began making calls on April 11, and scheduled a hasty news conference Wednesday after a local television station reported the story.

Hepatitis C is a virus that attacks the liver and often includes no symptoms for years after a person is diagnosed. HIV, or the human immunodeficiency virus, can lead to the debilitating and often fatal acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).

Both hepatitis C and HIV are typically transmitted through contact with contaminated blood, suggesting that only if the worker had an exposed wound or was bleeding could a surgery patient have been infected.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Josh is a parliamentary reporter in Ottawa. Before moving to the nation's capital in 2013, he covered provincial affairs in Edmonton and throughout Alberta. He joined the Globe in 2008 in Toronto before returning to his home province in 2010. More

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