Patients on renal replacement therapy are recognized as a group at increased risk of infection with hepatitis C virus (HCV). While the risk has been reduced by the use of erythropoietin for treatment of anaemia and the introduction of HCV screening of blood products and potential renal transplant donors, new cases of HCV are still being documented, with patients on hospital haemodialysis appearing to be particularly at risk. The exact mode of transmission of HCV within dialysis units is unclear, although there is evidence to support nosocomial transmission between patients. Third generation HCV antibody testing was performed on all dialysis patients when a new case of HCV was identified within our unit. Stored monthly serum samples were then examined retrospectively to determine when patients became HCV RNA and HCV antibody positive. Viral typing was carried out to identify the HCV strains responsible for transmission. Four new cases of HCV infection are described within a single dialysis shift. Viral typing identified two distinct strains of HCV as being responsible for these infections, both of which had previously been identified in dialysis patients within the unit known to have HCV infection. This information, taken in conjunction with knowledge of the location of each patient for dialysis, suggests two separate episodes of nosocomial transmission of HCV between haemodialysis patients. While evidence of nosocomial transmission of HCV is accumulating, with modern dialytic procedures evidence of transmission through the dialysis machine or equipment used for dialysis is lacking. This stresses the importance of strict applications of universal precautions as the key to prevention of further transmission of HCV infection. This information is obviously applicable not only to dialysis units but all units that may potentially come in contact with HCV patients.
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