Why pregnant women should be tested for Hepatitis C?
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Screening for Hepatitis C is recommended for all pregnant women. Can Hepatitis C virus be transferred from a mother to her child?
Although there are several factors that can cause Hepatitis (inflammation of the liver), most often it caused by a virus. Hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C are viral hepatitis. There are vaccines to prevent liver infections caused by hepatitis A and hepatitis B, but no vaccine has been approved yet for hepatitis C.
Infection with Hepatitis C virus (HCV) can range from a mild illness lasting for a few weeks (cute hepatitis C) to a serious, long-term illness (Chronic hepatitis C). If left untreated, chronic hepatitis C can lead to serious liver damage, cirrhosis, liver cancer, and even death. Also, more than half of acute infections turn into long-term infection.
Pregnant women are recommended to get tested for Hepatitis C as the virus can also be transmitted from a mother to her child through birth. According to USCDC, about 6 out of every 100 infants born to mothers with hepatitis C will become infected with the virus. The risk is even higher if the mother has both HIV and hepatitis C.
How is hepatitis C transmitted?
You can get hepatitis C virus, if you’re exposed to an infected person’s blood. According to WHO, hepatitis C is most commonly spread through:
- Sharing needles, syringes, or any other equipment to inject drugs.
- Inadequate sterilization of medical equipment in healthcare settings.
- Transfusion of unscreened blood and blood products.
An infected mother can also pass hepatitis C virus to her baby during birth. Other ways the bloodborne virus can be transmitted include:
- Having sexual intercourse with an infected person (often reported among men who have sex with men, and people having multiple sexual partners).
- Getting a tattoo or body piercing with non-sterile instruments.
Take note, Hepatitis C virus is not spread through hugging, kissing, holding hands, sharing food or drinks, coughing, sneezing, or breastfeeding.
What can be done if an expecting mother tests positive for hepatitis C?
Prenatal care providers are recommended to test all pregnant women for hepatitis C during each pregnancy. If a pregnant patient tests positive for HCV, at-risk infants can be identified, tested and monitored, as needed, and antiviral treatment can be initiated for both mother and baby at the appropriate time.
Currently, hepatitis C curative treatment is not approved for use in pregnant women. It can be started once the mother has given birth and completed breastfeeding. The treatment is approved for children aged 3 years.
Can infected women breastfeed their babies?
Yes. Breastfeeding doesn’t spread hepatitis C virus. Hence, women with hepatitis C can safely breastfeed their babies unless they have cracked or bleeding nipples. In that case, stop nursing temporarily until the wounds are properly healed.
Who else should get tested for hepatitis C?
- People who are 18 years and above should get tested for hepatitis C at least once in your lifetime.
- People who use injection should drugs get tested regularly
- People with HIV infection
- People who have liver disease
- People who are on hemodialysis
- People who have received transfusions or organ transplants s
- People who have been exposed to the blood of someone who has hepatitis C
- Children born to an hepatitis C-infected mother
How is hepatitis C diagnosed and treated?
A blood test, called the HCV antibody test or anti-HCV test, can determine if you have ever been infected with the hepatitis C virus. If the HCV antibody test turns out positive, a follow-up HCV RNA test may be recommended to check whether you have active infection.
For treatment of HCV infection, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends pan-genotypic direct-acting antivirals (DAAs), which can cure most patients. The therapy is recommended for all people with chronic hepatitis C (including children aged 3 years).
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