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WESTPORT, Oct 17 (Reuters)
Spouses of patients with chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) are at increased risk of acquiring the virus, and the risk goes up as time goes by, Taiwanese researchers report

Dr. Ding-Shinn Chen and colleagues of the National Taiwan University Hospital, Taipei, studied 100 anti-HCV-positive index patients and their spouses. "Chronic HCV infection was defined by a positive reaction for second-generation anti-HCV assay...for at least 6 months," Dr. Chen said.

Seventeen spouses (17%) were anti-HCV positive, and 15 of them were also positive for hepatitis C virus RNA. In addition, 11 couples were infected with the same genotype.

Couples married longer than 20 years had a 22% rate of infection, compared to 6% for couples married less than 20 years. Dr. Chen found that "the infected couples had more frequent sexual contacts and more commonly shared toothbrushes than those with uninfected spouses."

Because risk of transmission increases over time, Dr. Chen's team concludes that spouses of chronic hepatitis C virus patients should be "...followed regularly for HCV markers and...educated about how to prevent contraction of HCV infection."

In a related editorial, Drs. Timothy M. McCashland and Daniel F. Schafer of the University of Nebraska in Omaha, spell out those prevention measures. Sharing of personal hygiene items that could be contaminated with blood should be avoided; sexual activity should be restricted if bleeding (menstruation, hematuria) is present; routine condom use is not recommended, although couples should weigh the consequences of HCV infection "...to decide if the risk is sufficient to consider use of condoms."

Am J Gastroenterol 1996;91:2069-2070,2087-2090.

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