Blood transfusion found to have infected Irish patient with hepatitis B

First known case of its kind in Ireland described as a ‘rare, one in two million event’

The Minister for Health and the Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS) have moved to reassure the public after the first known infection of a patient in Ireland with Hepatitis B from a routine blood transfusion.

The IBTS said the infection occurred after the blood donation was made in the “window period” when the virus cannot be detected, even by the most sensitive tests available.

The case is “not an ongoing patient safety incident” and could not be attributed to a testing failure, according to Minister for Health Simon Harris. “This is a very rare situation which the IBTS is dealing with in a sensitive manner with the patient impacted.”

Dr Stephen Field, IBTS medical and scientific director, described the incident as a "rare, one in two million event" with no implications for blood that will be transfused to patients in the future.


He said the IBTS has tested 1.2 million donations to date and “there has been no other confirmed transfusion transmitted infection of Hepatitis B”.

It is possible for infected blood to pass as negative for a period of about 15 days, according to Dr Field. Similar cases have arisen in the UK and other countries.

The donated blood tested negative for the presence of Hepatitis B before the transfusion, as the virus was not picked up by the screening equipment used.

The IBTS said the incident “represents a donation made in the window period when the presence of the virus cannot be consistently detected even by the most sensitive tests available”.

The red blood cells from the donation were transfused into a patient during a medical procedure, which resulted in the patient later contracting Hepatitis B - a virus that infects the liver.

The Health Service Executive became aware of the issue when the original blood donor tested positive for the Hepatitis B virus, and the IBTS was informed.

The blood transfusion service then carried out a follow up test of an archived sample taken from the blood donor, using the same method and the blood sample came back negative for the presence of Hepatitis B.

Following an additional DNA test of the sample results came back positive for the Hepatitis B virus.

The IBTS said the patient is being managed appropriately by a medical team. Most people with normal immune systems will clear the virus, but those infected early in life are more likely to develop chronic infection.

Hepatitis B virus is transmitted through exposure to infected blood and body fluids such as semen and vaginal secretions. The most common routes of transmission relate to close contact (eg. sexual, mother to child, household) with an infected individual, sharing of needles for injecting drug use, or exposure to the virus in a healthcare setting.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is acting Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.