Objective: Survey for markers of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection in spouses of patients with HCV-related chronic liver disease.
Design: Cross-sectional clinical, serologic, and molecular biological study of spouses of patients with HCV viremia and chronic liver disease.
Setting: University and city hospitals.
Participants: Spouses (52 men and 102 women; mean age, 56 ±11 years) of 154 patients with HCV viremia (102 men and 52 women; mean age, 58 ±10 years), of whom 66 had chronic hepatitis, 49 had liver cirrhosis, and 39 had primary hepatocellular carcinoma.
Methods: Tests for HCV-associated antibodies were done using a second-generation enzyme immunoassay and immunoassays with synthetic oligopeptides deduced from the HCV core gene. Hepatitis C virus RNA was detected by polymerase chain reaction with primers deduced from the 5′-noncoding region and HCV genotypes by reaction with type-specific primers deduced from the HCV core gene.
Results: Hepatitis C virus-associated antibodies were detected in 42 (27%) spouses, of whom 25 were also positive for HCV RNA. Of 112 (73%) spouses without detectable antibodies, 2 had chronic liver disease. The development of markers of HCV infection in spouses increased with the duration of marriage, ranging from 1 to 60 years (30 ±11 years).
Conclusions: Spouses of patients with HCV viremia and chronic liver disease have an increased risk for acquiring HCV, which is proportional to the duration of marriage. They should be followed routinely for markers of HCV infection and liver disease.