Nearly 70 Patients Infected by Hepatitis C After Dialysis Treatment at Chinese Hospital

May 29, 2019 Updated: May 29, 2019

69 dialysis patients were infected with hepatitis C at a hospital in Jiangsu Province, China. This is the latest incident of patients being infected by hepatitis C after receiving dialysis treatment at a Chinese hospital.

In the past ten years, hepatitis C has spread across cities in China—Tongshan in Jiangsu Province, Dali in Yunnan Province, Zhen’an in Shaanxi Province, Qingdao in Shandong Province—which happened after patients received dialysis treatment at hospitals.

Infected by Hepatitis C

Local officials of Dongtai City in Jiangsu Province stated on May 27 that 69 patients with severe kidney disease were infected by hepatitis C after receiving dialysis treatment at the haemodialysis center of Dongtai People’s Hospital.

Dongtai officials said in the statement that the case was first reported on May 13. After an investigation, local authorities found that the infection was caused by the hospital’s neglect in following the rules of preventing the spread of the virus. The hospital’s Communist Party secretary (who holds the most authority at the facility), the president, the business leader, and vice-president were discharged later.

Dongtai is a county level city in Yancheng City of eastern China’s Jiangsu Province, with a population of 1.1 million in 2017, according to official statistics. Dongtai People’s hospital was founded by the city’s government in 1950, and is the biggest hospital in Dongtai.

According to World Health Organization (WHO), hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus. The hepatitis C virus is a blood-borne virus and the most common modes of infection are through exposure to small quantities of blood—this may happen through injection drug use, unsafe injection practices, unsafe health care, and the transfusion of unscreened blood and blood products.

People infected with Hepatitis C will develop cirrhosis or liver cancer if they don’t receive an effective treatment on time. About 399,000 people die each year from hepatitis C every year, worldwide, according to WHO.

China’s propaganda mouthpiece Voice of China reported on May 28 that the reason for the recent outbreak in Dongtai is that the hospital reused disposable supplies, which the dialysis machine manufacturer supplied to the hospital free of charge.

According to the report, the current business model of China’s dialysis market is that the manufacturer supplies the dialysis machines and all the related materials to the hospital, and the hospital hires the operators (for the machines) and pays for the utilities.

The average price for one dialysis treatment is 450 yuan ($65). The hospital will keep 180 yuan ($26) and give the manufacturer 270 yuan ($39). The profit of both parties is about 80 yuan ($11.57).

To make more money and cut costs, the hospital reuses the disposable supplies which includes infusion tubes and syringes.

Wang Yuedan, the deputy director of the Immunology Department at Peking University School of Medicine, told Radio Free Asia on May 27 that the anticoagulant heparin drug could be the infection channel for these medical accidents in China.

“A package of heparin has 5,000 units, and one patient needs 3,000 units for one dialysis treatment,” Wang said. “The remaining 2,000 units is thrown out, but some operators use it for the second patient [by using the same needle] to save money.”

Wang said the hepatitis C and other infectious viruses can be spread by the shared needles.

A Palestinian patient undergo kidney dialysis at al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City on Sept. 14, 2013. (Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images)

Poor Conditions

Chinese consulting firm Qianzhan Industry Research Institute released a report on May 8 about China’s dialysis business which revealed that few people in the country can afford dialysis treatment.

China has more than two million people who have serious kidney diseases and need dialysis treatment. But only 447,000 of them can receive the treatment due to the costs and limited treatment resources.

State-run China Youth Daily reported on May 28 that Dongtai People’s Hospital had ten dialysis machines before, which could only provide the most sick patients with two dialysis treatments each week.

The hospital received 20 more dialysis machines from the manufacturer in March, allowing the patients to receive three dialysis treatments each week, but another issue came up.

Normally, one operator operates six machines, but in this hospital, each operator has to operate nine machines due to a lack of manpower.

Furthermore, infection prevention rules require contagious patients to use a separate dialysis machine, and to receive treatment in an isolated area. But in this hospital, all machines are installed in the same area.

Chinese activist Hu Jia is a hepatitis B patient. He told Radio Free Asia on May 27 that he worries about more patients being infected in China because “dialysis patients don’t receive the treatment in one hospital, but several ones.” Hu said an infected patient may spread the hepatitis C virus to more people by receiving treatments at multiple facilities.