, Volume 12, Issue 1, pp 45-50

HCV transmission in family members of subjects with HCV related chronic liver disease

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To investigate the risk of sexual and intrafamilial transmission of HCV, 220 family members of 76 patients (index cases) with chronic type C viral liver disease were tested for serological markers of HCV Of the family members, 129 were offspring, 64 sexual partners, 15 parents and 12 siblings of the index cases. Anti-HCV was tested in all the household contacts; HCV-RNA was tested in antibody positive samples. The serologic markers of HCV were tested in a control group of 168 family members of 81 patients with chronic hepatitis unrelated to HCV. The overall prevalence of anti-HCV was 8.2% compared to 0.6% in the control group (p < 0.001). Sexual partners were anti-HCV positive more frequently than the other contacts (20% vs 2.2%; p < 0.001), without any difference in males or females. No correlation was observed between the occurrence of HCV infection in contacts and age, severity of liver disease or risk factor for the acquisition of HCV in the index cases. Seven of the 18 (39%) anti-HCV positive family contacts had biochemical evidence of chronic liver disease, histologically confirmed in the 6 patients who underwent a liver biopsy. Liver chemistry was normal in all the HCV-negative contacts. Ten of the 18 anti-HCV positive contacts (55%) were HCV-RNA positive. Genotypes were the same (lb) in 4 of the 7 viremic couples of subjects: in 3 of the 6 couples of sexual partners and in the only mother/son couple. These data suggest the occurrence of intraspousal transmission of HCV, while intrafamiliar acquisition of HCV in non-sexual contacts seems to be rare.