It is a virus that does not spread easily – and dies quickly.

That is why experts are still racking their brains over the source of the hepatitis C virus that infected at least 22 kidney patients at Singapore General Hospital (SGH).

The hepatitis C virus is generally transmitted by blood or blood products. It is not airborne and cannot be spread through social contact, sharing of utensils or drinking from the same glass, or through food or water.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says the most common modes of infection are through “unsafe injection practices, inadequate sterilisation of medical equipment and the transfusion of unscreened blood and blood products”. Half a million people die annually from hepatitis C-related liver diseases.

The hospital has met with the affected patients and their families to provide “full support”, and Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said that compensation would be part of the process, which will take its due course.

An independent review committee has found that the hepatitis C virus outbreak in SGH earlier this year was probably caused by various factors, including gaps in the hospital’s infection prevention and control measures.

The outbreak in two wards of SGH between April and August affected 22 patients — eight of whom have since died — and led to more than 1,000 being called for tests.

For seven of the eight deceased patients, the committee found that the hepatitis C virus found in their bodies contributed to, or directly caused, their deaths.

This is particularly damaging for Singapore as the country has always justified high prices on the basis of the highest quality and latest technology; so this tragic event is a body blow.

“Regrettably , outbreak is not the best situation to think about infection control improvements and infection control programmes” says Dorjan Marusic AACI’s CEO.

Healthcare organisations must have a proactive approach that goes beyond current regulatory requirements to make sure staff receive proper training; and are aware of the role they play in infection control.

AACI offers infection control training designed to enhance the culture of the healthcare organisation to minimise HAI.