PARIS: A massive campaign in Egypt to eradicate a blood parasite went disastrously wrong, causing an epidemic of hepatitis C that infects up to a fifth of the country's population, a research released on Thursday said.
US and Egyptian epidemiologists, in a report to be published in Friday's edition of the British Medical weekly - The Lancet, said the hepatitis was transmitted across the Egyptian population through unsterilised needles and reused syringes that were used to combat a blood fluke.
This is the world's biggest case of blood-borne viruses being spread by a medical campaign, they said.
The anti-fluke campaign, called Parenteral Antischistosomal Therapy (PAT), was conducted across Egypt from the 1950s to the 1980s.
It entailed giving between 12 and 16 intravenous injections of an antimony salt, tartaremetic, to each patient over a short period, the study said.
However, the injections were often administered by reusable syringes and needles that were either not sterilised properly or used for multiple doses for a number of people in one sitting.
The injection campaign ended when a cheap, oral medication became available, but by that time, there had been an "epidemic spread" of hepatitis C, and many people had probably become contaminated with hepatitis B as well, the researchers said.
Between 15 and 20 percent of Egypt's population of 63.3 million have antibodies to hepatitis C, meaning they have been infected by the virus but may not necessarily have symptoms of the illness, they said.