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Postpartum HCV treatment rare in infected mothers with opioid use disorder



Despite the availability of effective direct-acting antivirals, very few a mothers with opioid use disorder (OUD) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) during pregnancy received follow-up care or treatment for the infection within 6 months of giving birth, a retrospective study of Medicaid maternity patients found.

The study pooled data on 23,780 Medicaid-enrolled pregnant women with OUD who had a live or stillbirth during 2016-2019 and were followed for 6 months after delivery. Among these women – drawn from six states in the Medicaid Outcomes Distributed Research Network – the pooled average probability of HCV testing during pregnancy was 70.3% (95% confidence interval, 61.5%-79.1%). Of these, 30.9% (95% CI, 23.8%-38%) tested positive. At 60 days postpartum, just 3.2% (95% CI, 2.6%-3.8%) had a follow-up visit or treatment for HCV. In a subset of patients followed for 6 months, only 5.9% (95% CI, 4.9%-6.9%) had any HCV follow-up visit or medication within 6 months of delivery.

Dr. Jarlenski is an associate professor of public health policy and management at the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health.

Dr. Marian P. Jarlenski

While HCV screening and diagnosis rates varied across states, postpartum follow-up rates were universally low. The results suggest a need to improve the cascade of postpartum care for HCV and, ultimately perhaps, introduce antenatal HCV treatment, as is currently given safely for HIV, if current clinical research establishes safety, according to Marian P. Jarlenski, PhD, MPH, an associate professor of public health policy and management at the University of Pittsburgh. The study was published in Obstetrics & Gynecology.

HCV infection has risen substantially in people of reproductive age in tandem with an increase in OUDs. HCV is transmitted from an infected mother to her baby in about 6% of cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which in 2020 expanded its HCV screening recommendations to include all pregnant women. Currently no treatment for HCV during pregnancy has been approved.

In light of those recent recommendations, Dr. Jarlenski said in an interview that her group was “interested in looking at high-risk screened people and estimating what proportion received follow-up care and treatment for HCV. What is the promise of screening? The promise is that you can treat. Otherwise why screen?”

She acknowledged, however, that the postpartum period is a challenging time for a mother to seek health information or care for herself, whether she’s a new parent or has other children in the home. Nevertheless, the low rate of follow-up and treatment was unexpected. “Even the 70% rate of screening was low – we felt it should have been closer to 100% – but the follow-up rate was surprisingly low,” Dr. Jarlenski said.

Dr. Terplan is medical director of Friends Research Institute in Baltimore

Dr. Mishka Terplan

Mishka Terplan, MD, MPH, medical director of Friends Research Institute in Baltimore, was not surprised at the low follow-up rate. “The cascade of care for hep C is demoralizing,” said Dr. Terplan, who was not involved in the study. “We know that hep C is syndemic with OUD and other opioid crises and we know that screening is effective for identifying hep C and that antiviral medications are now more effective and less toxic than ever before. But despite this, we’re failing pregnant women and their kids at every step along the cascade. We do a better job with initial testing than with the follow-up testing. We do a horrible job with postpartum medication initiation.”

He pointed to the systemic challenges mothers face in getting postpartum HCV care. “They may be transferred to a subspecialist for treatment, and this transfer is compounded by issues of insurance coverage and eligibility.” With the onus on new mothers to submit the paperwork, “the idea that mothers would be able to initiate much less continue postpartum treatment is absurd,” Dr. Terplan said.

He added that the children born to HCV-positive mothers need surveillance as well, but data suggest that the rates of newborn testing are also low. “There’s a preventable public health burden in all of this.”

The obvious way to increase eradicative therapy would be to treat women while they are getting antenatal care. A small phase 1 trial found that all pregnant participants who were HCV positive and given antivirals in their second trimester were safely treated and gave birth to healthy babies.

“If larger trials prove this treatment is safe and effective, then these results should be communicated to care providers and pregnant patients,” Dr. Jarlenski said. Otherwise, the public health potential of universal screening in pregnancy will not be realized.

This research was supported by the National Institute of Drug Abuse and by the Delaware Division of Medicaid and Medical Assistance and the University of Delaware, Center for Community Research & Service. Dr. Jarlenski disclosed no competing interests. One coauthor disclosed grant funding through her institution from Gilead Sciences and Organon unrelated to this work. Dr. Terplan reported no relevant competing interests.

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