Screening for hepatitis C virus infection in methadone-maintained mothers and their infants

Anthony J W Liu,*, Ethan I An,* , Henry G Murray, Emma Tetstall, Marcel J Leroi and Ralph K H Nanan
Med J Aust 2009; 191 (10): 535-538.


Objective: To describe the patterns of screening for hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection in methadone-maintained pregnant women and their infants.

Design, setting and patients: Retrospective review of medical records from one rural and two metropolitan hospitals in New South Wales for pregnant women on methadone maintenance treatment and infants born to these women between 1 January 2000 and 31 December 2006, as well as records for pregnant women who were not on methadone treatment.

Main outcome measures: Rates of anti-HCV antibody and HCV RNA testing for pregnant women and their infants, and ages at which infants attended follow-up appointments.

Results: Of 295 pregnant women on methadone maintenance treatment, 288 were tested for anti-HCV antibodies (98%), compared with 1995 of 9987 women who were not on methadone treatment (20%) (P < 0.001). Seropositive results were obtained for 243 women in the methadone group (84%) and 54 in the non-methadone group (3%) (P < 0.001), of whom 44 (18%) and 17 (31%), respectively, were subsequently tested for HCV RNA (P = 0.03). HCV RNA test results were positive for 31 (70%) and 10 (59%) seropositive women in the methadone and non-methadone groups, respectively (P = 0.39). Of infants of HCV-seropositive methadone-maintained mothers, 27% of those for whom we had follow-up attendance data received HCV screening, and one of these infants tested positive for anti-HCV antibodies and HCV RNA.

Conclusions: Screening for HCV infection in the high-risk population of pregnant women on methadone maintenance treatment and their infants is inadequate. This could lead to significant underdetection of active HCV infection in this high-risk population, and their infants. Current screening guidelines may therefore need to be revised.

  • Anthony J W Liu,*1
  • Ethan I An,* 1
  • Henry G Murray2
  • Emma Tetstall1
  • Marcel J Leroi3
  • Ralph K H Nanan1

  • 1 Discipline of Paediatrics, Sydney Medical School — Nepean, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW.
  • 2 Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Nepean Hospital, Sydney West Area Health Service, Sydney, NSW.
  • 3 Department of Pathology, Nepean Hospital, Sydney West Area Health Service, Sydney, NSW.



We thank Beth Bendall and Barbara Crowhurst for assistance with the data extraction.

Competing interests:

None identified.

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