According to a report by researchers at the University of Virginia Health System, a surgeon with hepatitis B infection passed the virus to at least two patients during surgery. The report states that the doctor learned that he had hepatitis B infection when he received a routine test for blood-borne diseases after he stuck himself with a needle. He had emigrated from a country with a high prevalence of hepatitis B, and it is believed he had the virus for a while without experiencing symptoms.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the hospital where the surgeon practiced began an investigation to find and test all the patients the surgeon had treated for the nine months he had worked at the hospital. Of 232 patients tested, two were found to be infected with a strain of hepatitis B virus that was genetically identical to that of the surgeon. The patients were treated with drugs. Six additional patients had been infected with hepatitis B. These patients no longer had the virus in their blood; therefore researchers were unable to determine if it had been transmitted by the surgeon. Since the patients had no known risk factors for developing hepatitis B, it is considered possible that they also got the virus from the surgeon.
Dr. Costi Sifri, an infectious disease researcher and hospital epidemiologist at the University of Virginia Health System, stated that it is not clear how the surgeon passed the virus to the patients. The surgeon said he wore two sets of gloves during surgery. The researchers suggest that tiny tears in the gloves that occurred during surgery may have caused the virus to pass to the patients. Sifri noted that the surgeon would have had to have a cut on his hands as well.
The report, “Transmission of Hepatitis B Virus from an Orthopedic Surgeon with a High Viral Load,” was published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases (2013; 56(2): 218-224).