Hepatitis C Virus Sexual Transmission and Monogamy

Numerous sources state that there is a low risk of transmitting Hepatitis C virus (HCV) among monogamous heterosexual couples.  More information on this subject has been published (Hepatology 2013; 57: 881-89).

In this study, 500 couples were studied; all were long-term heterosexual partners and all were HIV-negative.  The index partner was anti-HCV positive with a median age of 49 years and had a median of 15 years with their partner.  Condom use was infrequent among the study participants.

Key finding: HCV prevalence among partners was 4% (n=20) and ~2% (n=9) had concordant genotype/serotype.  The maximum prevalence of HCV transmission among these sexual partners was 1.2%.  Based on 8,377 person-years of follow-up, the maximum incidence rate of HCV transmission was reported as 0.07% per year or approximately one per 190,000 sexual contacts.

Some of the interesting aspects of the study included details of sexual activity and discussion of factors that may increase HCV transmission.  With regard to sexual activity, 30.4% of the couples reported prior anal intercourse and more than 90% reported oral sex (by both partners); however, both of these activities were reported as infrequent: typically 0 per month for anal intercourse and 3 contacts per month for oral sex.  With regard to HCV transmission, the authors did not identify any risk factors in the current study but did note that this may be influenced by viral titer, integrity of mucosal surfaces, and the presence of other infections.

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