Hepatitis C information for women

There are a number of specific issues women need to consider regarding hepatitis C.

Mother to child transmission

The risk of transmission from mother to child is thought to be between 3% amd 10%. The risk is higher in women who are coinfected with HIV.

If you are pregnant or planning to have a child and are hepatitis C positive, it is important to discuss this with your consultant. Whether there is anything you can do to lessen the transmission risk is uncertain. There is some evidence that mothers with lower viral loads are less likely to transmit infection. It is not thought that caesarean delivery makes any difference. On the other hand breastfeeding if your nipples are bleeding is considered a risk and waiting till they are healed is advised.

Sharing of toothbrushes and shaving equipment is the only other likely situation where a child could be exposed to the virus via a parent who is living with hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C should have a minimal effect on how you care for your child. You can wash them, cook for them and  you should feel comfortable doing everything a parent wants to do for their child.

Transmission during menstruation

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus, so is present in a woman’s menstrual blood if she is living with the virus. This is one of the few situations in which sexual transmission of hepatitis C is possible between heterosexual couples. All of the couples in an Italian study that demonstrates how unlikely sexual transmission was in a in a long term heterosexual relationship denied having sex during menstruation.

More information on sexual transmission is available here.

The impact of oestrogen on cirrhosis

Oestrogen is a hormone women produce primarily between puberty and the menopause. It has been shown to have anti-viral properties.

It has two known effects on hepatitis C:

  • It is believed to be a reason why women have a higher rate of spontaneous clearance of the virus. This is where somebody's immune system is able to clear the virus within the first six months of infection.
  • During chronic infection oestrogen protects the liver, slowing down liver damage. After the menopause, women produce less oestrogen so lose its protective effect. Post-menopausal women are at risk of more rapidly advancing cirrhosis.