The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has named hepatitis C as one of four emerging threats to mothers and babies. Between 2009 and 2019, the number of pregnant women in the United States with hepatitis C has more than doubled [1]. No treatment is available to prevent mothers from transmitting HCV to their babies and about 5.8% of pregnant women infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) will transmit the infection to their babies [2].

Screening is a crucial part of identifying pregnant women with the infection so they and their babies can receive the appropriate testing and treatment after birth. While screening is the first step toward receiving curative treatment, many people are unaware of their risk for the disease. LetsGetChecked’s at-home Hepatitis C Test can help providers combat this alarming surge in infections in pregnant women by making screenings more accessible.

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Hepatitis C screening recommendations

HCV can be transmitted to a baby in utero or during the peripartum period. Previously, the CDC only recommended that pregnant women with known risk factors receive hepatitis C screening. Unfortunately, about half of all people with hepatitis C are unaware of their infection. Focusing testing only on those with the highest risk for the disease, such as drug users, means that many cases can go undiagnosed.

In light of the dramatic increases in hepatitis C rates in pregnant women in the United States, new screening guidelines have been recommended. The CDC now recommends all adults get a hepatitis C test at least once, while the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that all pregnant women receive testing during each pregnancy [3]. Screening for HCV during pregnancy allows healthcare providers to identify mothers who should receive treatment after giving birth and infants who should receive testing.

The importance of hepatitis C screening for pregnant women

Obstetricians routinely screen women for hepatitis B, HIV, and syphilis, but not always for hepatitis C, even though it is more common. Pregnancy is one of the few points in time when women of reproductive age have contact with their healthcare providers, so targeting this population for hepatitis C screening is crucial. Ideally, it is best to screen for the HCV infection before pregnancy. Previously risk factor screening guidelines recommended that pregnant women be tested for hepatitis C only if they have known risk factors. However, risk factor screening is not sufficient to eliminate this disease.

Although it is not always possible to identify an HCV infection before pregnancy, screening during pregnancy can help identify future care needs for both mother and baby. According to a 2019 study, universal screening of pregnant women would detect hepatitis C in 33,000 women and at least 300 children a year, improving lives and saving costs [4]. Maternal screening is vital since the primary route of HCV infection in children is vertical transmission during pregnancy, and children are not usually assessed for liver disease. Screening can identify at-risk infants in need of testing and ongoing monitoring. Without screening, patients may remain unaware of their infection until it progresses into a serious health issue, such as cirrhosis or liver cancer.

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Increasing hepatitis C testing for pregnant women with at-home testing

Covid delays have compounded the already existing gaps in access to hepatitis c screening and care. About three-quarters of surveyed state viral hepatitis programs lost staff and cut preventive services during the pandemic [5]. LetsGetChecked’s at-home testing solutions can help bridge the care gap and help providers make hepatitis C screening more accessible for pregnant women and reach HCV elimination targets.

Our at-home Hepatitis C Test meets expecting mothers where they are so they can screen themselves from the comfort of home. At-home testing gives patients control of the entire testing process, allowing them to proactively engage in their health and receive vital health insights that enable better healthcare decisions.

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