WASHINGTON – Programs to screen pregnant women for hepatitis C infection could go far to reduce a host of adverse outcomes, according to an analysis of a large national sample.
"Targeted HCV screening may overlook many pregnant women with chronic HCV infections, and that may contribute to the underdiagnosis of pediatric hepatitis C in the United States," study investigator Dr. Po-Hung Chen said at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases.
"Chronic hepatitis C is associated with adverse maternal/fetal consequences. In light of these findings, there seems to be a need to further evaluate universal hepatitis C screening as a part of antepartum care," he added.
Dr. Chen of the division of gastroenterology at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, and colleagues collected data on all births and spontaneous abortions recorded in the National Inpatient Sample between 2003 and 2010.
More than 28,000 of the 32 million deliveries or miscarriages recorded in the National Inpatient Sample were to mothers infected with HCV, he reported.
Of HCV-positive mothers, 72% had no traditional risk factors for the disease.
HCV-positive mothers were significantly more likely to experience obstetric pulmonary embolism (adjusted OR, 3.05) and thyroid dysfunction (aOR, 1.37), and more likely to experience maternal death, but not significantly so (aOR, 2.49). They also were significantly more likely to be white, less affluent, on Medicaid, substance abusers, and have more comorbidities.
Women who were HCV positive were significantly more likely to have labor before 37 weeks’ gestation (aOR, 1.36), antepartum hemorrhage (aOR, 1.44), and poor fetal growth (aOR, 1.61).
Cost of care and length of stay were significantly greater for mothers who were HCV positive, Dr. Chen said.
Previous analysis using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) showed that the prevalence of hepatitis C virus infection in women aged 20-39 years was 1%-1.6% in the period between 1999 and 2002. Dr. Chen noted that this could be an underestimation because NHANES is based on home health surveys and therefore does not include prison populations and homeless women, who are at high risk for HCV infection.
Currently, no definitive guidelines exist on how to manage chronic HCV in pregnant women, likely because of a dearth of suitable proven management options, Dr. Chen said, adding that ribavirin is contraindicated in pregnancy, interferon is generally not recommended, and the currently approved protease inhibitors are not options for single-drug management.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists does not recommend routine prenatal screening for HCV; instead, the college recommends screening only in women who are at high risk based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention criteria.
Dr. Chen did not report financial conflicts of interest.