Adult hepatitis C may have its roots in the routine blood transfusions given to premature or underweight babies in the 1960s.
The practice of giving a few millilitres of blood/plasma to underweight or pre term babies was common in Italy and elsewhere several decades ago. To find out if this practice correlated with recently diagnosed cases of hepatitis C, Italian researchers examined paediatric department transfusion records of 1968 to 1974.
They identified 613 children transfused within the first year of life. Of the 57 who were traceable, half are now positive for antibodies to HCV, and 17 received at least one transfusion from the same donor who is also positive.
Some 30-50 per cent of people with HCV have no known risk factors for the disease. However, risk factor assessment is usually based on what the patient can remember. This intriguing study shows that, when assessing risk factors, digging deeper into the documented medical history of the patient may prove enlightening (Lancet, 2000; 356: 1572-3).