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Hepatitis B virus infected physicians and disclosure of transmission risks to patients: A critical analysis

Diana L Barrigar1, David C Flagel2 and Ross EG Upshur3*

Author Affiliations

1 PGY-1 McGill University, Faculty of Medicine, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

2 Department of Humanities and Languages, Hazen Hall, Room 104, University of New Brunswick, Saint John, New Brunswick, E2L 4L5, Canada

3 Primary Care Research Unit, Sunnybrook and Women's College Health Sciences Centre, Department of Family and Community Medicine and Public Health Sciences and Joint Centre for Bioethics, University of Toronto, 2075 Bay view Avenue – A 100 Toronto, Ontario, M4N 3M5, Canada

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BMC Medical Ethics 2001, 2:4  doi:10.1186/1472-6939-2-4

Published: 25 October 2001

Abstract

Background

The potential for transmission of blood-borne pathogens such as hepatitis B virus from infected healthcare workers to patients is an important and difficult issue facing healthcare policymakers internationally. Law and policy on the subject is still in its infancy, and subject to a great degree of uncertainty and controversy. Policymakers have made few recommendations regarding the specifics of practice restriction for health care workers who are hepatitis B seropositive. Generally, they have deferred this work to vaguely defined "expert panels" which will have the power to dictate the conditions under which infected health care workers may continue to practice.

Discussion

In this paper we use recent Canadian policy statements as a critical departure point to propose more specific recommendations regarding disclosure of transmission risks in a way that minimizes practice restriction of hepatitis B seropositive health care workers without compromising patient safety. The range of arguments proposed in the literature are critically examined from the perspective of ethical analysis.

Summary

A process for considering the ethical implications of the disclosure of the sero-status of health care workers is advanced that considers the varied perspectives of different stakeholders.