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Infectious health care workers: should patients be told?
  1. Oliver Blatchford,
  2. Sarah J O'Brien,
  3. Mary Blatchford,
  4. Avril Taylor
  1. University of Glasgow, Glasgow and Scottish Centre for Infection and Environmental Health, Glasgow


    The risk of transmission of HIV or hepatitis B from infectious health care workers to patients is low. However, inadvertent exposure causes great concern amongst patients of an infected health care worker.

    The patients of a Scottish dentist diagnosed hepatitis B e antigen positive were informed by letter of their exposure. A sample of patients was sent a postal questionnaire. Most (56%) respondents reported feeling anxious on receiving the letter but almost all (93%) thought patients should always be informed following treatment by an infectious health care worker, although the risk was very small.

    We discuss clinical and ethical factors relating to informing patients following exposure to an infectious health care worker. We suggest that a balance should be struck between patients' wishes to know of risks to which they have been exposed, however small, and the professional view that when risks are negligible, patients need not be informed.

    • Disease transmission - professional to patient
    • health personnel
    • dentists
    • patient information
    • truth disclosure
    • hepatitis B
    • HIV

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    • Oliver Blatchford is a Research Fellow in the Department of Public Health, University of Glasgow, Glasgow. Sarah J O'Brien is a Consultant Epidemiologist at the Scottish Centre for Infection and Environmental Health, Glasgow. Mary Blatchford is a Senior Tutor in the Department of General Practice, University of Glasgow, Glasgow and Avril Taylor is a Medical Sociologist at the Scottish Centre for Infection and Environmental Health, Glasgow.

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