Hepatitis: Risks for the Surgeon

Fry, Donald E.
February 2000
American Surgeon;Feb2000, Vol. 66 Issue 2, p178
Academic Journal
Six different hepatitis viruses have now been characterized. Hepatitis B and C are the two hepatitis infections that are of greatest concern for surgeons. Hepatitis B and C share several features that have led to this concern. Both are blood-borne infections. Both are associated with chronic infection ultimately leading to cirrhosis, portal hypertension, and hepatocellular carcinoma, and both can be occupational infections for the surgeon after percutaneous injury associated with infected blood. Chronic hepatitis B infection is seen in 1.25 million people in the U.S. It is associated with a transmission rate to healthcare workers of 25 to 30 per cent following a hollow needle stick injury. Five per cent of acute infections result in chronic disease. It can be effectively prevented as an occupational infection by vaccination with the highly effective hepatitis B vaccine. Chronic hepatitis C infection is present in nearly 4 million people in the U.S. It has a lower rate of transmission than hepatitis B following needle stick injury, but it has a 50 to 80 per cent rate of chronic disease after acute infections. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, and only prevention of blood exposure will avoid the risks of this occupational infection. Other hepatitis viruses are likely to be identified. Prevention of blood exposure, by the better use of barriers in the operating room and modification of surgical techniques, is recommended to prevent occupational infection from both known and unknown blood-borne viruses from the surgical patient.


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