Hepatitis fears grow at therapy clinic

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The Independent Online
HEALTH officials have now confirmed eight cases of the potentially deadly hepatitis B virus among alternative medicine patients who were treated with a fashionable but controversial form of acupuncture.

A further 80 patients who are all known to have had the treatment, known as haemotherapy, at the critical period are being asked to submit blood samples for analysis. The blood will be sent to the Public Health Laboratory Service in London which will oversee the testing.

The Independent revealed last month that an urgent investigation had begun when three patients were found to have contracted hepatitis B after attending an alternative medicine clinic in north London. The patients had undergone haemotherapy, which involves the patient's blood being extracted and then re-injected in a saline mixture through a hole caused by an acupuncture needle.

The Finchley Alternative Medical Centre, which is at the centre of the scare, has agreed to stop the treatment after being visited by officials from the Health and Safety Executive.

Officials from the Barnet Health Authority, north London, last week wrote to the 80 at-risk patients, who live in 26 different health authority areas across Britain. All the patients, who will be contacted via their GPs, will be sent information about hepatitis B, a virus strain which causes a potentially fatal infection of the liver and has a fatality rate of between 6 and 20 per cent, compared with 1-2 per cent for Hepatitis A. Although the patients may not be showing any symptoms, the virus can have an incubation period of more than 100 days.

Many of the patients attending the clinic were seeking a cure for allergies. One London man, who is now in a Hertfordshire hospital suffering from hepatitis B, was hoping to be rid of a condition which caused his tongue to swell, restricting his breathing. The man's family said he was now concerned that he may have been put at risk of contracting the HIV virus.

Other infected patients live in Birmingham, Oxford and Derbyshire.

A spokeswoman for Barnet Health Authority, said that evidence collected so far indicated that patients did not need to be tested for HIV. But she added: "However, we cannot rule that out absolutely. It might well be an issue they want to discuss with their GP."

The spokeswoman said that officials were not expecting the results of the blood tests to be ready for several weeks. Meanwhile, the practitioner at the centre of the hepatitis B scare, Dr Madhusudan Shivadikar, has tested negative for the virus. A founder member of the Commonwealth Institute of Acupuncture and Natural Medicine and a former hospital doctor, he is co-operating fully with the inquiry.

"Lots of people are ill. I think it's an epidemic," he said last week. However, he said that the health authority had asked him not to discuss the matter.