Comparative Study
Journal Article
Systematic Review
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A review of hepatitis C virus (HCV) vertical transmission: risks of transmission to infants born to mothers with and without HCV viraemia or human immunodeficiency virus infection.

BACKGROUND: Hepatitis C virus (HCV) vertical transmission studies have reported conflicting findings, possibly due to differences in HCV transmission risk factors among maternal populations, or to methodological differences.

METHODS: Systematic review of worldwide published and unpublished HCV vertical transmission studies. Standardized diagnostic criteria were applied to minimize methodological differences, and transmission rates recalculated according to maternal HCV viraemic and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection status.

RESULTS: In all, 976 eligible infants from 28 studies were followed up sufficiently for recalculation of transmission rates. Overall transmission rates were less than 10% in 8/12 studies of HIV negative mothers, compared with 2/7 studies comprising at least 50% HIV-coinfected mothers. Rates from 409 viraemic mothers in 15 studies ranged from 0% to 41%, being less than 10% from HIV negative mothers in 6/13 studies and from HIV positive mothers in 1/6 studies. Nine studies measured maternal viraemia levels, with only 2/30 transmitting mothers having < 10(6) copies/ml of HCV RNA. Eight transmissions were identified overall from non-viraemic mothers. Significant transmission rate variation remained after accounting for maternal viraemia and HIV coinfection, possibly due to differences in other vertical transmission risk factors, in frequencies of postnatal transmission, or residual differences in study methodologies.

CONCLUSIONS: Overall, HCV transmission is largely restricted to infants born to HCV viraemic mothers, and low risks among most HIV negative mothers may be due to lower HCV viraemia levels. International agreement on standardized diagnostic criteria for HCV vertical transmission would facilitate pooling of individual findings, to allow more precise transmission estimates and further investigation of risk factors.

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