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HCV News
April 5, 2004

Hi Lloyd,

It seems that the USA was not the only country that knew HCV was infecting the blood supply back in the 80's. I wonder what they know about now that their not disclosing to the public.


Laboratory 'Knew' of Hep C Risk
By Carol Nader

The former Commonwealth Serum Laboratories has admitted it knew in the 1980s that there was a risk of contracting hepatitis C through its treatments, but said the virus was considered relatively minor.

CSL medical and research director Daryl Maher told a national Senate inquiry in Melbourne yesterday that hepatitis C, then known as non-A and non-B hepatitis, was considered an "innocuous" condition in the 1980s - but that its dangers are known now.

The costs of contracting the virus were considered minor when weighed against the benefits of the Factor 8 it manufactured - used by patients with hemophilia, he said.

The admission follows accusations that CSL, which makes blood plasma products, and the Australian Red Cross Blood Service knowingly infected thousands of people with hepatitis C in the 1980s, before appropriate screening was implemented.

CSL has been tight-lipped until questioned yesterday about its role in what victims have called "the most significant medical tragedy in recent times".  It has provided a confidential submission to the inquiry. Chairwoman Senator Jan McLucas said this was unusual and asked CSL to consider making itpublic.

CSL and the Blood Service have also been accused of failing to use screening equipment used in the United States, known as ALT or surrogacy testing, that could have reduced the risk of transmission of hepatitis C by as much as 50 per cent.

But Dr Maher told the inquiry that the test was not always accurate in detecting hepatitis C. Hepatitis C attacks and disables the liver. In the worst case it can be fatal and some sufferers require a liver transplant.

Charles MacKenzie, administrator of the Tainted Blood Product Action Group, which represents thousands of people who have been infected through blood transfusions and intravenous blood products, said CSL had infected about 90 per cent of its core customers.

"That's a hell of a record. They knew that the blood supply was unsafe, they knew that people were going to be infected, and in hundreds and perhaps thousands of cases they didn't adequately warn consumers about the risks," he said. "It should be noted that CSL also managed to infect hundreds of Australian hemophiliacs with HIV as well."

Apart from those suffering hemophilia, a condition where the blood does not clot, the other big victims were women given blood during childbirth.  Mr MacKenzie, who will present his submission to the hearing today, said he was still approached by people who had only just found out they had hepatitis C "through failing health".  Earlier notification would have enabled patients to get to hospital sooner and "try and halt
progression of this deadly virus", he said. Hundreds had already died.

The inquiry heard the disaster might have been averted if the blood had been given an 80-degree heat treatment that might have destroyed the hepatitis C.

Dr Maher said it was believed at the time that heating could undermine the quality of Factor 8. The technique was later introduced in 1989.  The Red Cross will present its submission in Sydney tomorrow.



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