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QJM. 1999 Sep;92(9):505-8.

Lack of evidence for the heterosexual transmission of hepatitis C.

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  • 1Department of Internal Medicine, University of Innsbruck, Austria.


The importance of sexual transmission in the epidemiology of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is still controversial. To assess the risk of heterosexual HCV transmission, we examined eighty patients with chronic HCV-associated liver disease and their spouses in a cross-sectional clinical and serological cohort study. Serum samples from index patients and their spouses were assayed for HCV antibodies and HCV RNA. In the couples positive for both, further HCV genotyping was done. A questionnaire addressing points such as additional risk factors for HCV infection, sexual behaviour or duration of partnership was completed by all couples. HCV antibodies were detected in four (5%) spouses, of whom three (4%) were also positive for HCV-RNA. HCV genotyping revealed concordance (genotype 1) in two couples, indicating a risk of interspousal HCV transmission of 2.5%. Spouses of patients with HCV viraemia and chronic liver disease have a low risk for acquiring HCV. Even long-term spouses seem not to be at increased risk. We therefore suggest that the risk of HCV transmission between monogamous sex partners does not depend on the duration of sexual exposure.

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