ATLANTA — A quarter of hospitals surveyed last year failed to test pregnant women for hepatitis B, which new mothers can transmit to their infants, according to federal health officials.
In a 1993 review of 183 hospitals, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently found that 138, or 75%, routinely screened expectant mothers for the virus either at a prenatal visit or at the time of delivery.
Each year, about 22,000 infants are born to women with chronic hepatitis B, which causes inflammation of the liver and jaundice. The newborns are at high risk of becoming infected by their mothers and can go on to develop chronic liver disease or even liver cancer as adults.
Most health care groups and federal health agencies have urged maternal screening for hepatitis B since about 1990, said Dr. Frank Mahoney, chief of the CDC's Hepatitis B Prevention Branch. But because infected newborns don't develop symptoms of chronic liver disease for decades, physicians often overlook checking the mother for the virus, he said.