A team from Rome, Italy, evaluated whether the transmission of hepatitis C virus (HCV) between spouses occurs through sexual contact or through other types of exposure.
A total of 311 chronic HCV carriers and their spouses were consecutively enrolled into the study.
The spouses underwent HCV blood testing.
Exposure to parenteral risk factors was compared between couples of which both partners were HCV positive and couples with one positive partner.
In couples with both partners positive, qualitative detection of serum HCV RNA and genotyping were performed.
The prevalence among spouses was found to be 10% (32/311).
The mean age was higher for HCV-positive spouses (57.7 vs 49.6 years for HCV-negative spouses).
| Prevalence of HCV among spouses was 10%.
| American Journal of Gastroenterology |
The prevalence among spouses increased with the duration of marriage, whereas no difference was found in relation to the clinical status of the index case.
The 32 HCV-positive spouses reported parenteral exposure (blood transfusion, drug use, and use of multiple-use glass syringes inside or outside the family) more often than the 279 HCV-negative spouses (84% vs 26%; odds ratio [OR], 12.4).
The researchers found that the percentage of couples sharing glass syringes was significantly higher among those with both partners infected (66% vs 13%; OR = 12.9).
Qualitative serum HCV RNA was determined in 22 couples with both partners infected. In 13 of them, both partners were HCV RNA positive, whereas in the remaining 9, only one partner was positive.
In 8 of the 13 couples with both partners HCV RNA positive, the same genotype was found for both partners.
Author T. Stroffolini, of the Istituto Superiore di Sanita, Rome, concluded on behalf of the group, "The same HCV genotype was detected for both partners in relatively few couples, and a history of parenteral exposure was an independent predictor of HCV positivity. These findings suggest that the risk of sexual transmission is low.
"The sharing of glass syringes may have played an important role in transmission between spouses."