TAIPEI (Taiwan News)—Standard medical hygiene practices require nurses and doctors to discard used needles to prevent transmission of diseases through the exchange of blood from one patient to another, but the unhygienic reuse of needles by Weilien Clinic (維蓮診所) in Taoyuan City's Yangmei District has led to the mass spread of the incurable liver disease hepatitis C.
This marks Taiwan's first reported case of a group hepatitis C infection since the virus was detected in 1992.
At least five patients from the clinic were diagnosed with the blood-bourne vhepatitis C virus that can cause chronic liver conditions including liver cancer and cirrhosis from February to May this year.
The affected patients from the clinic only found out about their condition after seeking medical treatment at a hospital, and lab analysis of the hepatitis C virus's nucleic acid sequence showed it was similar in all five cases indicating it was a mass infection, said Chin-Hui Yang (楊靖慧) from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Since all five patients had very different backgrounds and habits, the only thing they had in common was all of them received intravenous therapy at Weilien Clinic, a clinic that was established in Taoyuan City 10 years ago.
Further investigations in May revealed the head nurse at the clinic, Chen Jui-reng (陳瑞蓉), had been reusing needles during medical treatment, which she admitted to doing.
Li Wei-chen (李維臣), the 90-year-old owner of the clinic, denied any involvement, saying he was unaware of Chen's illegal medical practices, which also included using expired medication, such as insulin and illegal bloodletting treatment.
Li said he was only responsible for prescribing drugs administered to patients at the clinic.
Chen and two other medical personnel at the clinic were suspended from medical practices by authorities for three months and sent to the Taoyuan District Prosecutors Office on May 11, 2017 for further investigation.
Taiwan's Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) advised the 1,200 patients treated by the clinic to immediately report to Taoyuan City's Health Department for a free blood test.
The hepatitis C virus has a latent period of six months, and patients that were treated at the clinic from June 10, 2016 to May 12, 2017 should get tested, said Yang.
Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that can be transmitted through small quantities of blood by sharing needles and affects nearly 71 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.
Almost 80 percent of those that contract hepatitis C will develop chronic liver conditions, and among these patients, nearly 30 percent will eventually develop cirrhosis or liver cancer, said Yang.
Sharing needles places people at high risks of contracting other contagious diseases, such as hepatitis B and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), to prevent contacting such diseases, a person should never share toothbrushes, nail clippers, or engage in unsafe sex, said the CDC.