Monday, December 29, 2008

Fibrin glue deal talks stalled / Plaintiffs claiming substance caused hepatitis infections uncompensated

Settlement talks have reached an impasse for plaintiffs involved in lawsuits against the government over claims they were infected with the hepatitis C virus after being administered fibrin glue during surgery.
The government has cited that a causal link is unclear between the glue, a compound of fibrinogen and other substances used as a surgical adhesive for stitches made in heart and other types of surgery, and the hepatitis infections.
Since the January enactment of a special measures law to provide compensation to patients, about 600 plaintiffs have reached a settlement with the government. The plaintiffs who received state compensation were infected with the virus after being administered with a fibrinogen blood product.
However, the vast majority of plaintiffs claiming they were infected by the virus after being administered fibrin glue have yet to be compensated.
So far, only four such plaintiffs have reached a settlement with the government, according to a national group of lawyers representing hepatitis C victims that were infected by the virus through tainted blood products.
This leaves about 160 plaintiffs who have been unable to claim what the government says are blanket relief measures.
A 27-year-old man from Kanagawa Prefecture was diagnosed with acute hepatitis after a heart operation when he was 5. His condition is now chronic.
For many years, he did not know what the source of his infection was, but in light of the many media reports on the issue of hepatitis caused by tainted blood products, he made an inquiry to the hospital that operated on him at the end of last year and learned that fibrin glue was used in his surgery.
He brought a case against the government in April, but no progress has been made toward reaching a settlement.
A doctor recommended that he undergo interferon treatment, which is known to be effective for hepatitis C sufferers. But treatments costs several tens of thousands of yen a month, and the man lacks the funds to pay for it.
"The glue may have saved my life, and I bear no grudge against the hospital," the man said. "But I can't think of anything else that could have caused the infection, and I want the government to compensate me soon."
Fibrin glue is believed to have been administered to about 79,000 people in the 1980s.
But the glue is applied to incisions and wounds and differs from fibrinogen, which is used as a hemostatic agent and administered by intravenous injection.
The government has said "the infection rate is unclear because [fibrin glue] is not injected directly into blood vessels."
Settlements have only been reached so far with individuals whose infection is clearly linked to the application of the glue.
"By March, we hope to collect scientific data and establish fixed criteria for settlements," a Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry spokesman said. "Should a clear causal link be found, we'll swiftly begin settlement procedures."
The lawyers group says it has confirmed cases of infection from the use of minute quantities of the glue, and on Friday submitted a written demand to five district courts at which lawsuits are in progress--those in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Fukuoka and Sendai.
"The glue's danger is clear," the demand states. "[The government] should reach settlements as quickly as possible."

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