From the Journals

HCV screening risk factors in pregnant women need updating



Current risk factors used to screen for hepatitis C should be updated, according to study results of 106,842 pregnant women who underwent screening.

An enlargement of a hepatitis C vaccine is shown Courtesy NIH

“Because risk-factor screening has obvious limitations, universal screening in pregnancy has been suggested to allow for linkage to postpartum care and identification of children for future testing and treatment,” wrote Mona Prasad, DO, of Ohio State University, Columbus, and colleagues.

In a study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology, the researchers reviewed data from women with singleton pregnancies presenting for prenatal care prior to 23 weeks’ gestation during 2012-2015. Of these, 254 tested positive for the hepatitis C virus (HCV) antibody, for a seroprevalence rate of 2.4 cases per 1,000 women.

The researchers conducted a case-control analysis of 131 women who tested positive and 251 controls to identify HCV infection risk factors based on interviews and chart reviews. They found that risk factors significantly associated with positive HCV antibodies included injection drug use (adjusted odds ratio, 22.9), a history of blood transfusion (aOR, 3.7), having an HCV-infected partner (aOR, 6.3), having had more than three sexual partners (aOR, 5.3), and smoking during pregnancy (aOR, 2.4).

In an unadjusted analysis, the researchers confirmed two of the risk factors currently recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for screening for HCV: injection drug use and being born to a mother with HCV infection, but not dialysis, organ transplantation, or HIV infection.

“Our results demonstrate that current risk factors could be contemporized,” Dr. Prasad and colleagues noted. “The currently accepted risk factors such as exposure to clotting factors, dialysis, and organ transplants are unlikely to be found. A thorough assessment of injection drug use history, smoking, transfusions, number of sexual partners, and partners with HCV infection is more sensitive in an obstetric population.”

The study findings were limited by several factors including possible selection bias and inclusion of only 65% of eligible women who were HCV positive, as well as a lack of screening data from 2016 to the present, which may not reflect the impact of the recent opioid epidemic, the researchers noted. However, the results were strengthened by the large sample size, and the generalizability of the study population.

“Our results regarding prevalence rates and risk factors of HCV antibody among pregnant women in the United States will be valuable to policymakers as they weigh the costs and benefits of universal screening,” Dr. Prasad and associates concluded.

Although universal screening has the potential to be more cost effective, given the small population of pregnant women eligible for treatment and lack of an available treatment, “the rationale is weaker for unique universal HCV screening recommendations for pregnant women,” they said.

By contrast, Sammy Saab, MD, MPH, of the University of California, Los Angeles; Ravina Kullar, PharmD, MPH, of Gilead Sciences, Foster City, Calif.; and Prabhu Gounder, MD, MPH, of the Los Angeles Department of Public Health, wrote an accompanying commentary in favor of universal HCV screening for pregnant women, in part because of the increase in HCV in the younger population overall.

“For many women of reproductive age, pregnancy is one of their few points of contact with their health care provider; therefore, pregnancy could provide a crucial time for targeting this population,” they noted.

Risk-based screening is of limited effectiveness because patients are not identified by way of current screening tools or they decline to reveal risk factors that providers might miss, the editorialists said. Pregnancy has not been shown to affect the accuracy of HCV tests, and identifying infections in mothers allows for screening in children as well.

“The perinatal hepatitis B virus infection program, which has been implemented in several state and local public health departments, could serve as an example for how to conduct surveillance for mothers with HCV infection and to ensure that HCV-exposed children receive appropriate follow-up testing and linkage to care,” the editorialists concluded.

The study was supported in part by multiple grants from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Dr. Prasad disclosed funding from Ohio State University and from Gilead. Coauthors had links with pharmaceutical companies, associations, and organizations – most unrelated to this study. The editorialists had no financial conflicts to disclose.

SOURCES: Prasad M et al. Obstet Gynecol. 2020;135:778-88; Saab S et al. Obstet Gynecol. 2020;135:773-7.

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