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Book to provide clarity on antenatal testing

The health outcomes of women and their babies can be greatly improved if health professionals get screening practices right.

Across Australia, confusion persists around antenatal screening of the three major blood-borne viruses: hepatitis B (HBV), hepatitis C (HCV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Yet, the health outcomes of women and their babies can be greatly improved if health professionals get screening practices right, says the Australasian Society for HIV Medicine (ASHM).  In its latest publication Antenatal Testing and Blood-Borne Viruses (BBVs,  ASHM  offers clarity on this important issue, and also provides additional information about the management of these BBVs during pregnancy and birth.

"Prevention of mother-to-child transmission of certain BBVs can be highly effective if diagnosed antenatally," says Dr Michelle Giles, lead author of the booklet.

"So it's important health professionals are aware of, and accurately follow policy guidelines."
According to ASHM, pregnant women with hepatitis B have a 90 per cent chance of transmitting the disease to their children if left untreated. Vaccination reduces this risk by 95 per cent.

The risk of mother-to-child transmission for an HIV positive mother is up to 40 per cent.

Interventions can reduce this to less than 2 per cent.

There is only a 5 per cent chance of children born to mothers with hepatitis C acquiring the disease and at present there are no drug therapies that safely reduce this risk.

Despite the policy recommendation that pregnant women be routinely screened for hepatitis B and HIV, but only selectively screened for HCV, research from 2009 showed that in Victoria, rates of testing for HCV were in fact higher than HIV.

"The 8 page booklet provides clarity to all health professionals involved in the antenatal care of Australian women and their families, says Avon Strahle, acting executive officer of the Australian College of Midwives.

"Midwives and doctors now have an accessible and up to date tool to support the provision of best practice and consistent advice around antenatal screening for blood-borne viruses."

Author Giles is an infectious diseases physician with a special interest in HIV and pregnancy.

View the booklet online at: www.ashm.org.au/images/pdfs/publications/1976963383_antenatal_web.pdf.

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