Detection of hepatitis C virus RNA in saliva samples from patients with seric anti-HCV antibodies.
BACKGROUND/AIMS Several epidemiological studies have shown the existence of other routes of transmission of the hepatitis C virus besides the parenteral one, but the mechanisms involved are not yet understood. The general aim of this study was to evaluate the prevalence of hepatitis C virus infection in family contacts of infected patients and to analyze the possible risk factors and alternative transmission routes. METHODOLOGY One hundred and thirty-eight relatives of 45 patients (index cases) affected by C virus-related chronic hepatitis were studied. The relatives were 45 spouses, 89 children and 4 cohabitants who underwent detection of serum anti-HCV antibodies; the anti-HCV-positive subjects were tested for serum HCV-RNA. The index cases, all the spouses and only other infected relatives were tested for the presence of HCV-RNA in saliva RESULTS Antibodies to hepatitis C virus were detected in 5.7% of the family members while 11.1% of the analyzed spouses were serum HCV-RNA-positive. HCV-RNA was found in 44% of the examined saliva and 39% of these were found serum HCV-RNA-negative. The prevalence of hepatitis C virus among household contacts, excluding cases with previous parenteral exposure, was 3.6%. CONCLUSIONS The epidemiological data on the intrafamilial spread of hepatitis C virus may be underestimated owing to the existence of infected relatives serum-negative but saliva-positive for the presence of the virus. The whole of these observations suggests a possible role of biological fluids in intrafamilial spread of hepatitis C virus.