Hepatitis C, a liver infection caused by a virus, is known to transmit from an infected mother to her unborn child and usually happens at the time of birth, but new research says that it can be largely prevented.
A commentary in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal) stated that the prevention could be possible if the country recommended universal screening for HCV in pregnancy. Chelsea Elwood, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of British Columbia and Laura Sauve, BC Children's Hospital, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC stated in their remarks.
"We encourage all care providers to consider the reproductive implications of HCV, to consider HCV screening in pregnancy and referral for treatment of HCV," wrote the medical experts in the journal.
They further stressed that now the time has come to move forward with the universal HCV screening in women who are pregnant including "initial prenatal investigations that are then repeated based on risk factors in the third trimester."
It should be noted that almost half of the infected women are unaware of the fact that the virus is living inside their body and the current treatment with direct-acting antiviral regimens is quite effective.
In addition, the authors stated that "With the care gaps in both maternal screening in pregnancy and postnatal infant screening, Canada likely has a large cohort of infants, children and young adults with progressive liver disease, who could have been cured of the HCV infection if it had been identified early or, quite simply, would not have been infected at all."
They also suggested that the elimination of vertical transmission of HCV from mother to her child would be possible if public health and health care professionals collaborate to achieve the goal together.
It should be noted that it is not necessary that all the Hepatitis C positive mothers will pass the virus to their newborn. There is about a 1 in 20 chance that an infected mother will transfer the virus to the baby but unfortunately, there is no way to prevent the spread of hepatitis C to the newborn. However, as per The Hepatitis C Trust, the risk of transmission is higher if the mother is also infected with HIV.
If a mother is infected by hepatitis C, then the usual amount of time before testing the baby is 18 months. Sometimes people show concern over breastfeeding, but since there is no proof that breastfeeding can transmit hepatitis C, it is considered safe. But doctors recommend that if a woman's nipples are cracked and bleeding, she should not breastfeed her baby until the nipples are healed.
So, if a woman is pregnant or planning to have a child and have hepatitis C, it is very important to discuss the transmission risk with a doctor.