Research Article

Hepatitis C virus: evidence for sexual transmission.

BMJ 1991; 302 doi: (Published 01 June 1991) Cite this as: BMJ 1991;302:1299
  1. R S Tedder,
  2. R J Gilson,
  3. M Briggs,
  4. C Loveday,
  5. C H Cameron,
  6. J A Garson,
  7. G E Kelly,
  8. I V Weller
  1. Academic Department of Urology, University College, Middlesex School of Medicine, London.


    OBJECTIVE--To determined the prevalence of hepatitis C virus infection and associated risk factors in patients attending a genitourinary medicine clinic, as evidence for sexual transmission. DESIGN--Seroprevalence estimated by reactivity in an enzyme immunoassay for antibodies to C100 protein with supplementary testing with a recombinant immunoblot assay and an assay for hepatitis C virus RNA. SETTING--Outpatient genitourinary medicine clinic in central London. PATIENTS--The panel of 1046 serum samples was from 1074 consecutive patients attending the clinic during November and December 1987 and having blood taken for routine testing for syphilis. Before samples were anonymised demographic and risk factor information was extracted from the clinic notes. Samples had already been tested for antibody to HIV-I and antibody to hepatitis B core antigen. MAIN RESULTS--Significantly more homosexual subjects than heterosexual subjects were positive for hepatitis C antibody determined by enzyme immunoassay alone (19/275 (6.9%) v 8/771 (1.0%), odds ratio 7.14, p less than 0.0001) and also when reactive serum samples were also tested by recombinant immunoblot assay (6/270) (2.2%) v 3/770 (0.4%), odds ratio 5.88, p less than 0.02). There were also significant associations in patients positive for hepatitis C antibody with positivity for antibodies to HIV and to hepatitis B core antigen, lifetime number of sexually transmitted diseases (homosexual men only), and age (all groups combined). Most patients whose serum samples contained specific antibodies to hepatitis C virus were viraemic. CONCLUSIONS--The study provides strong evidence for the sexual transmission of hepatitis C virus. Assays derived from other gene products are desirable to investigate the specificity and sensitivity of the enzyme immunoassay for C100 antibody as a marker of hepatitis C virus infection.