Sexual transmission of hepatitis C

Norma de Paula Cavalheiro
Revista do Instituto de Medicina Tropical de São Paulo 2007, 49 (5): 271-7
It is generally agreed that the hepatitis C virus (HCV) can be efficiently transmitted parenterally, although data on viral transmission by sexual or non-sexual intrafamilial contact are conflicting. Since data collection began in 1989, the first study dealt with the risk of sexual transmission among multiple sex partners. Other investigations followed, emphasizing that risk increases in specific groups such as patients co-infected with HIV and HBV, sex workers, homosexuals, illicit drug users and patients attended at sexually transmittable disease clinics. The question arises as to what might be the risk for monogamous heterosexuals in the general population, in which one of the partners has HCV? The literature provides overall rates that vary from zero to 27%; however, most studies affirm that the chances of sexual transmission are low or almost null, with rates for this mode fluctuating from zero to 3%. Intrafamilial transmission is strongly considered but inconclusive, since when mentioning transmission between sex partners within the same household, specific situations also should be considered, such as the sharing of personal hygiene items, like razorblades, toothbrushes, nail clippers and manicure pliers, which are important risk factors in HCV transmission. In this review, we discuss the hypotheses of sexual and/or intrafamilial transmission.

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