Background. Aims of this study were to investigate whether hepatitis C virus infection influences the incidence and natural history of intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP) and whether ICP has different characteristics in hepatitis C virus (HCV) positive women from ICP in HCV negative women.
Methods. A prospective study for the prevalence of the HCV infection and for the incidence of ICP was carried out in the 5840 patients admitted to the Prenatal Department of Padua University, Italy, between January 1996 and January 1999. Testing was done for HCV by the enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA 3), recombinant immuno blot assay (RIBA 3) and polymerase chain reaction (PCR). The diagnosis of ICP was made on clinical grounds based on the occurence of pruritus with onset during pregnancy, persisting up to the time of delivery and disappearing after delivery, supported by demonstrating an elevation of both serum ALT and total serum bile acids. The Student's t-test, one way anova and chi-square tests were used for statistical analysis.
Results. During the study period, 56 of 5840 patients developed ICP (0.96%). Of these, 12 were also HCV-RNA positive. The rate of ICP was observed more commonly in HCV-RNA positive women than in HCV-RNA negative women (20.33% or 12/59 versus 0.78% or 44/5767, P = 0.001
Conclusions. Occurrence of ICP during the third trimester should be an indication to investigate the HCV status of the patient. Although the diagnosis of ICP is not confirmed by specific tests, we confirmed a higher risk of HCV infection in this condition. Therefore, occurence of ICP during the third trimester should be an indication to investigate the HCV status of the patient. Broader studies are necessary to assess the impact of infection on the perinatal outcome of ICP.