Hepatitis C virus infection in pregnancy and the risk of mother-to-child transmission

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The risk of vertical transmission of the hepatitis C virus (HCV) from infected mothers to their children during pregnancy and delivery was determined in 120 children born to HCV-positive mothers. Methods included enzyme immunoassay and immunoblot for detection of HCV antibodies and reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) for detection of viral RNA. Six (5%) children were perinatally infected with HCV as shown by RT-PCR. None of the infected children had clinical signs of hepatitis. None of the pregnancies was complicated by abortion, stillbirth, premature birth, or malformation of the child. Special concern was given to the possibility of HCV transmission via breast milk. In no breast milk sample obtained from 34 HCV-infected mothers was HCV RNA detected. These observations indicate that HCV infection is not necessarily a contraindication for breast-feeding.