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Volume 62 - 1999 - Fasc.1 - Case series

Viral hepatitis and pregnancy

This paper reviews data on the mutual relationship between pregnancy and viral hepatitis and the mother-to-infant transmission of the virus. In the western world, hepatitis A, B or C do not seem to influence the course of pregnancy, or to be associated with foetal risks. In contrast, women who contract a hepatitis E infection in their third trimester of pregnancy have a relatively high probability to develop a fulminant hepatitis. Mother-to-infant transmission of hepatitis A seems to be very uncommon. On the contrary, HBsAg and HBeAg positive mothers have a 80-90% risk to transmit the disease to their offspring, more than 85% of these becoming chronic carriers of UBsAg. The risk depends on the level of viral replication. In HBsAg positive and HBeAg negative mothers the rate of transmission is only 2-15%, these babies rarely become carriers. A possible explanation is the transplacental passage of the HBeAg making the infant tolerant to the hepatitis B virus. As most of the infections occur during or directly after delivery, the neonates are suitable for postexposure prophylaxis. It is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics that newborns of HBsAg positive mothers should receive hepatitis B immunoglobulins within 12 hours after birth concurrently with the first pediatric dose of the vaccine. Vaccination should be completed at I and 6 months. This regimen confers a protective efficacy of @ 90%. Vertical transmission of hepatitis C is considered to be relatively rare, around 11% when HCV-RNA is positive. The highest rates of vertical transmission of HCV are noted in women with high HCV-RNA level or concurrent HIV infection. The risk is extremely low when no HCV-RNA is detected. There is currently no treatment to prevent this vertical transmission; routine screening of all mothers is unwarranted, and pregnancies among HCV-positive mothers should not be discouraged, but their infants should be tested for anti-HCV at 1 year and followed for the development of hepatitis. Breast feeding does not seem to play an important role in the transmission of hepatitis B and C.