The hepatitis C virus, or HCV, causes an infection which damages the liver. It is spread through blood-to-blood contact with a person who is infected with the virus. In adults, this most commonly happens through sharing infected needles for drug use.
Mothers who have HCV can spread the infection to their child during pregnancy or childbirth. Up to 45% of children who get HCV can clear the infection on their own by age two without needing treatment. However, children who don’t clear the infection go on to develop long-term infection, known as chronic HCV. Over time, if left untreated, chronic HCV can lead to liver inflammation, liver scarring, and even cancer.
Chronic HCV is diagnosed through blood tests. An antibody test will show if someone has been exposed to HCV. If the antibody test is positive, an RNA test should be done to see if there is an active HCV infection. Any child born to a mother known to have HCV should be tested after birth. Testing can start as early as two months of age with the HCV RNA test. However, definitive testing should be performed at 18 months old with the HCV antibody test and HCV RNA test if the antibody test is positive.
Once a child is found to have HCV infection, he or she should be monitored with periodic blood and imaging testing. These tests are performed to evaluate liver health and determine if the infection clears on its own or becomes chronic. Children who develop chronic HCV should be treated. There are direct-acting anti-viral drugs available that are safe and highly effective to treat HCV. They are approved in children as young as three years old. The HCV virus is can completely eradicated in 98% of patients who take a full course of treatment.
The video below is a professional education program entitled, Hepatitis C Virus Infection in Children and Adolescents. It is presented by the American Liver Foundation and features expert speakers, Dr. Vania Kasper of Brown University and Dr. Michael Narkewicz of Children’s Hospital of Colorado.
Last updated on August 16th, 2023 at 12:38 pm