A Spanish court Tuesday handed down an almost 2,000-year jail term to an anaesthetist found guilty of infecting 275 patients with the Hepatitis C virus, four of whom died.

Juan Maeso, 65, a former chief anaesthetist at the La Fe de Valence maternity unit in eastern Spain, will in effect serve a maximum 20 years in prison, as per Spanish law.

The former doctor, who was a drug addict and a Hepatitis C carrier, was found guilty of infecting 275 people in four hospitals in the Valencia region between 1988 and 1997, after a trial which opened in September 2005.

As well as the prison term for injury and manslaughter, he was also ordered to pay compensation totalling nearly one million euros.

Maeso contaminated his victims by using syringes on patients which he had already used himself to inject drugs.

In 1997, amid a sharp rise in Hepatitis C cases, doctors at two health insurance companies requested a check on sterilisation procedures in the private clinic where Maeso worked.

In April 1998, public authorities began a procedure against the anaesthetist for opiate consumption and suspended him.

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne viral infection that can cause severe liver damage. Although many patients can recover quickly from it, people can also die from the related consequences of long-term liver damage.