October 7, 2008

IHC Patient Infects Worker

By SHARPE, Marty

AN IHC organisation is being prosecuted after one of its workers suffered acute organ failure and needed a liver transplant after contracting hepatitis B from a patient.

The Labour Department is prosecuting Idea Services -- the community service branch of IHC -- under the Health and Safety in Employment Act, for allegedly failing to take all practicable steps to prevent one of its employees from being exposed to the disease at work.

A defended hearing began in Napier District Court yesterday. The Hastings female community support worker and her female Down syndrome patient both have interim name suppression.

The patient was a known carrier of hepatitis B. The worker was aware of this, but believed she was immune because she had been vaccinated in 1999 at the company's expense.

However, she had only one vaccination of the required three to ensure immunity. The worker claims she was never made aware three vaccinations were needed. She contracted the disease after the patient's teeth punctured her hand when she fell in May last year.

The worker went to her doctor two days later and blood samples were taken. But she became progressively unwell. In July she went into acute liver and kidney failure and was taken to hospital. After a liver transplant the worker found out she had hepatitis B.

Labour Department lawyer Natasha Szeto said Idea Services should have screened the worker to ensure she was immune to hepatitis B. Once it was discovered she was not immune, she should not have been exposed to the patient without vaccination and confirmation of her immunity.

Idea lawyer Bruce Corkill, QC, told the court of numerous courses and training days the worker had attended since joining the company in 1999. The courses had a strong focus on infectious controls and made it clear that three vaccinations were needed, he said.

(c) 2008 Dominion Post. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.