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Failure To Detect Vertical Transmission of Hepatitis C Virus

John F. Reinus, MD; Enid L. Leikin, MD; Harvey J. Alter, MD; Ling Cheung, MD; Michiko Shindo, MD, PhD; Betsy Jett, BS; Steve Piazza, MD; and J. Wai-Kuo Shih, PhD
[+] Article and Author Information

Requests for Reprints: John F. Reinus, MD, Montefiore Medical Center, Division of Gastroenterology, 111 East 210th Street, Bronx, NY 10467.

Current Author Addresses: Dr. Reinus: Montefiore Medical Center, Division of Gastroenterology, 111 East 210th Street, Bronx, NY 10467.

Dr. Leikin: Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Westchester County Medical Center, Macy East, 2nd floor, Valhalla, NY 10595.

Drs. Alter, Cheung, Shih, and Ms. Jett: National Institutes of Health, Department of Transfusion Medicine, Building 10, Room 1C711, 9000 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20892.

Dr. Shindo: National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Hepatitis Studies Section, Building 10, Room 9C103B, 9000 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20892.

Dr. Piazza: Westchester Medical Center, Department of Neonatology, Valhalla, NY 10595.


Ann Intern Med. 1992;117(11):881-886. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-117-11-881
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Objective: To search for transmission of hepatitis C virus (HCV) from infected mothers to their infants.

Design: Prospective clinical, serologic, and molecular biologic follow-up (at least 3 months) of the infants of mothers with anti-HCV antibody.

Setting: A county hospital providing primary and referral care in high-risk obstetrics (perinatology).

Patients: Twenty-three mothers with anti-HCV antibody and their 24 infants.

Methods: An enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (EIA) and a four-antigen recombinant immunoblot assay (RIBA) were used to test for anti-HCV antibody; serum HCV RNA was measured in two independent laboratories by reverse transcription and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) using nested primers in the 5′-noncoding region. Infant samples were tested for HCV RNA by PCR at delivery and after 3 to 6 months of follow-up. Each sample was tested at least four times in two independent laboratories.

Results: Twenty-nine of 648 mothers (4.5%; 95% Cl, 3.0% to 6.4%) had anti-HCV antibody; these women had 30 babies. Twenty-three mothers and their 24 babies were followed at least 3 months (mean follow-up, 52 weeks). Of the 23 mothers, 21 (91%; Cl, 72% to 99%) had a reactive RIBA; one woman had an indeterminate RIBA and was positive for HCV RNA by PCR. In 16 of 23 mothers (70%; Cl, 47% to 87%), PCR yielded a positive result in both laboratories. The mean maternal alanine aminotransferase (ALT) level was 1.6 times the normal value. All the babies had anti-HCV antibody in cord-blood samples, but antibody disappeared or diminished in strength in interval samples, and no infant had evidence of active production of anti-HCV antibody. Only 1 of 24 (4%; Cl, 0.1% to 21%) cord-blood samples was HCV RNA positive, and none of 24 (0%; Cl, 0% to 14%) follow-up samples was positive for HCV RNA by PCR in either laboratory. Four mothers and one baby had antibody to HIV.

Conclusions: Infant anti-HCV antibody is most likely acquired passively in utero, and vertical transmission of HCV is uncommon.

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