Hundreds may have HIV without knowing

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HUNDREDS of haemophiliacs may still be unaware that they contracted HIV or Hepatitis C from infected blood products up to 30 years ago, an independent inquiry heard yesterday.

Campaigners warned that the 4,670 haemophiliacs who contracted either infection was "the tip of the iceberg".

Philip Dolan, the chairman of the Scottish Haemophilia Forum, told Lord Archer of Sandwell, the former solicitor-general leading the independent inquiry, that about 2,000 people who received transfusions prior to 1991 had not been traced and could be at risk. He pointed to one patient who had been found to have chronic Hepatitis C in 2006, but had continued to donate blood, unaware of having been infected 20 years earlier.

"The person who received an infected blood transfusion in the 1970s and was not traced back and continued to be a blood donor; that person's donation could have eventually been part of the pool of blood used to make [the contaminated batch of blood] Factor VIII," said Mr Dolan, who contracted Hepatitis C as early as 1979 but was not told of his condition for 12 years. "How many other cases such as this exist?" he added.

Peter Stevens, of the Eileen Trust, which supports people living with HIV from contaminated blood, said he knew people seeking help who had lived with the virus for 20 years but had never received medical attention. "There are others out there who have HIV and are in the community, who may be married. They are a source of infection. I think it is a very serious problem. There may not be many of them, but it is serious."

Roddy Morrison, the chairman of the Haemophilia Society, told the public hearing that more than 4,500 haemophiliacs, including himself, were infected with Hepatitis C because of contaminated blood - a figure equating to four out of five haemophiliacs at the time.

And because many were not told they had HIV, a further 63 spouses are known to have the disease. He said: "Many of these infections could and should have been prevented ... this is not a tragedy, it is a preventable disaster."

A "catalogue of delays" by the government over two decades meant more people became infected and more lives were lost, Mr Morrison added.

Heat treatment of blood was not introduced in Scotland until 18 months after its already overdue use in England.

The Executive reiterated its commitment to a full, public inquiry into contaminated blood. A spokesman said this would go ahead, but only once Lord Archer's inquiry had ended. A court decision on whether the Lord Advocate and health minister acted lawfully in dismissing earlier calls for a public inquiry is expected this month.