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Keywords:

  • alanine aminotransferase;
  • hepatitis C RNA;
  • hepatitis C virus;
  • injecting drug use;
  • pregnancy

Abstract

Background: A high proportion of female injecting drug users (IDU) have evidence of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. We undertook a prospective study of patients attending a clinic for pregnant IDU to determine the impact of pregnancy on the course of HCV infection and whether pregnancy is affected by HCV infection.

Methods: One hundred and thirty-one IDU were recruited and followed up with liver function tests, HCV serology and HCV-RNA tests.

Results: Of 131 patients, 125 had HCV antibodies (anti-HCV positive) at delivery, and of these 62% were HCV-RNA positive. The anti-HCV-negative women were younger and had a shorter duration of drug use than the anti-HCV-positive women. There were no differences between viraemic and non-viraemic women with respect to age, ethnicity, duration of injecting drug use, methadone maintenance dose, hepatitis B exposure or reported high-risk behaviour. Alanine aminotransferase (ALT) levels were higher and the proportion with ALT > 55 IU/L higher in viraemic women. Viraemia persisted in all 55 women who were viraemic at term. Eleven had an ALT flare post-partum that was unrelated to viral load and was clinically unsuspected. Four had concurrent elevated γ-glutamyltranspeptidase and were considered to be drinking alcohol at hazardous levels. Four of 23 women who were HCV-RNA negative at term became positive during follow up.

Conclusions: Pregnancy does not adversely affect the course of hepatitis C. A modest rebound in ALT levels, but not HCV-RNA, occurs after delivery in some viraemic women. This supports the theory that immune mechanisms rather than direct viral cytopathology are involved in hepatocyte injury during HCV infection. Hepatitis C infection did not influence pregnancy complications and outcomes.