German HIV blood fear 'could kill'

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The Independent Online
BONN - Germany's snowballing scandal over HIV-infected plasma could soon claim lives because thousands of patients are refusing to undergo blood transfusions, officials said yesterday. Sabine Bergmann-Pohl, a junior health minister, told a congress of doctors in Berlin that more people were likely to die as a result of rejecting essential treatment than through Aids.

Health experts tried to still the panic and called for a rational debate over reports that a pharmaceutical firm failed to test its plasma products for HIV, which can lead to Aids. 'There is no Aids scandal. The risks have been talked up,' said doctors at the congress. Horst Seehofer, the Health Minister, has been forced to defend himself against mounting charges of whipping up hysteria after calling for former patients to have HIV tests.

The Koblenz-based firm UB-Plasma was closed down last week and four workers arrested over allegations of sloppy testing and fears that tainted plasma may have been sold to about 80 hospitals in Germany and throughout Europe. Millions of former patients fear they may have unknowingly been infected with HIV by blood products used in routine surgery.

The public prosecutor investigating UB-Plasma, Norbert Weise, told a German television station it would take well into 1994 to clear up the company's affairs. Mr Weise said 20,000 blood-product samples would have to be screened and about 5,000 blood donors interviewed. He said only three cases of actual infection through UB- Plasma products had been identified, but added: 'I don't want to cause panic, but I can't rule out that further cases of infection will be revealed.'

In Berlin, officials said the first test results on 4,000 samples of UB Plasma products would be published today.

Italy, Switzerland and Austria have recalled blood products that might have originated from UB-Plasma, and Sweden has banned imports of the firm's products.