Doctor Accused of Infecting Patients With Hepatitis C

Nearly 50 women have been infected with hepatitis C at an abortion clinic in Australia, and now a 61-year-old anesthesiologist who worked at the Melbourne facility is charged with endangering their lives.

The doctor, who has not been identified, was charged with 54 counts each, of conduct endangering life, negligently causing serious injury and recklessly causing serious injury. The most serious charge carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

The charges relate to 49 patients at the clinic who health officials say contracted the same strain of hepatitis C as the doctor between 2008 and 2009. The doctor, whose name has not been released by police, was expected to appear in court later Friday.

Hepatitis C can cause serious liver problems, including cirrhosis and cancer. It is spread through the blood.

Police have not released details on how they believe the disease was transmitted. But Bram Alexander, a spokesman for the Victoria state Department of Health, said officials with the department closely investigated all the infection control procedures at the clinic and didn't find any problems with them.

"That's precisely why, back in early last year, we referred these matters to the police for further investigation — because our investigation could find no plausible reason as to why the infection took place," Alexander said.

The doctor had his registration suspended in February 2010.

Health officials tested more than 4,000 of the doctor's patients during their investigation, and found 49 who were infected with a strain of the virus genetically linked to his.

The Associated press contributed to this report.