The likelihood of transmitting hepatitis C virus (HCV) from one partner to another in a monogamous heterosexual couple is extremely small, according to new research published in the March issue of Hepatology. Researchers studied 500 hep C-positive and HIV-negative people and their long-term heterosexual partners. They polled the couples about their lifetime risks for hep C infection, about their sexual practices and about personal items they shared that might aid in transmission. The scientists also analyzed blood samples from the participants to detect for hep C and to compare strains of hep C in which both members of a couple carried the virus.

With a median age of 49, most of the participants were non-Hispanic whites. Sexual history between couples ranged from two to 52 years. In 4 percent of the couples, both were living with hep C; nine couples had similar strains of HCV, and three (0.6 percent) had highly related strains, suggesting transmission of the virus between the partners.

Calculating across 8,377 person-years of follow-up, the researchers projected that the maximum rate of hep C transmission through sex in these couples was 0.07 percent per year, or about one out of 190,000 sexual contacts. There was no association between risk and any specific sexual practices.

To read a release about the study, click here.

To read the study abstract, click here.