There have been few studies to determine the exact risks of hepatitis C during pregnancy. The few studies which have been completed suggest that there is no increased risk of pregnancy or delivery complications for those who carry this disease. Transmission to the baby during delivery is possible, but the average risk of doing so is only around 5%. Women who have progressed forms of the disease and severe liver damage may experience serious complications such as liver failure and even death.
Many who have hepatitis C during pregnancy will experience no symptoms. There are those who live with the disease for many years without experiencing any effects. For these individuals the virus seems to remain dormant, but they are still carriers and can pass it on to others. Asymptomatic women who are pregnant are no more likely to have pregnancy complications than those who do not carry the virus, according to most studies.
Those with hepatitis C during pregnancy are at risk for passing the virus on to their babies. The exact chances of spreading it will vary from mother to mother and may depend on how sick the mother is. Most mothers have less than a 10% of chance of passing it on, although those with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) may be at an increased risk of passing it on to to their babies during delivery.
Women who have more progressed hepatitis C during pregnancy may have more serious complications. Those who have severe liver disease may be at risk for serious illness like full liver failure and even death. Medical treatments can sometimes be performed to sustain or improve liver function until delivery can be done and a transplant can be completed, although many medications used in the treatment of hepatitis C are not safe during pregnancy. Sometimes the infant will have to be delivered as soon as it is developed enough to survive outside of the womb.
Mothers with severe hepatitis C infection should avoid getting pregnant unless it is approved by a doctor. The risk of spreading the infection to their babies may be higher for these women. There is no treatments available to prevent the spread of hepatitis C from mother to baby, and there is no cure for hepatitis C. Vaccines and medications are being developed which may treat or cure the illness, but they have not been approved for effectiveness or safety at the time of this writing.