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Reuters Health Information (2004-03-29): S. Korean Red Cross rapped for tainted blood lapses

Public Health

S. Korean Red Cross rapped for tainted blood lapses

Last Updated: 2004-03-29 14:32:26 -0400 (Reuters Health)

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea's Red Cross mishandled donor information and circulated blood donated by hepatitis virus carriers, infecting nine people, government auditors said on Monday.

The Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) called on the Korea National Red Cross to punish officials responsible for shipping blood donated by hepatitis virus carriers to hospitals and pharmaceutical companies for five years up until January.

A board audit conducted at the end of 2003 found that 76,677 units of blood received from donors who had been infected with the hepatitis C virus had been distributed for transfusions or research by the Red Cross, a board official said.

The South Korean chapter of the international agency also put in circulation 228 units of blood donated by 99 people who had been suspected of carrying HIV, but who later tested negative for the virus, the official said.

Nine people were found to have been infected with hepatitis last month after receiving blood transfusions from the Red Cross, the officials said.

South Korean Red Cross spokesman Lee Jae-sung said the problems stemmed from a change in laws in April 2000 that banned donations from people who had been infected with hepatitis. The previous law had allowed donations from people who were hepatitis-free at the time they gave blood.

It was not immediately clear if there were also cases of hepatitis infections through blood donations made before April 2000 under the earlier rules.

"We changed the rules for donation but we only acquired a system to investigate donors' disease history in May 2003," Lee said by telephone. "The nine people infected with the hepatitis virus received blood during the period between April 1, 2000, and May 2003," he said.

One of the nine already had hepatitis before receiving the tainted transfusion, he said.

"We take full responsibility for the other eight people and plan compensation," Lee said, adding the suspect units of blood had been used up by the time last year's audit had been done.

New procedures for checking donors' medical history had made it "impossible for people who had been infected with viruses to donate their blood", he said.

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