Born with Hepatitis C
A highly prevalent, infectious liver disease, Hepatitis C can infect people from all socioeconomic brackets, cultures and generations. Babies can even be born with the Hepatitis C virus. While children do not represent the most common age group of Hepatitis C patients, learn 12 facts about being born with this illness.
Transmitted via blood-to-blood contact, Hepatitis C is a chronic viral infection of the liver that affects approximately 1 to 2 percent of adults. Hepatitis C is usually spread when blood from an infected person enters the body of someone who is not infected. Today, the most common route of infection is sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs. Hepatitis C was also commonly spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants before widespread screening of the blood supply began in 1992.
Besides injection drug use or receiving tainted blood or tissue from a medical procedure, less common routes of spreading Hepatitis C may include:
- Needlestick injuries in healthcare settings
- Being born to a mother who has Hepatitis C
- Sharing personal care items (like razors or toothbrushes) that could have blood on them
- Sexual contact with someone infected with Hepatitis C
While Hepatitis C is much less common in children than adults, most children with Hepatitis C are infected at birth. This is known as vertical transmission (from mother to child). Some facts regarding those born with Hepatitis C include:
- Only between 4 and 10 percent of children born to infected mothers actually get Hepatitis C.
- The risk of vertical transmission is greater if the mother has both HIV and Hepatitis C infection.
- If a mother has Hepatitis C, the chance of transmitting it to her child is higher if she has a high viral load.
- As of this time, interventions at birth such as C-section delivery have not been shown to affect the risk of vertical transmission.
- Between 20 and 40 percent of those born with Hepatitis C will clear the virus on their own, without treatment, by age two. This is different than adults because only about 15 percent are able to clear the virus on their own.
- There are reports of children clearing the Hepatitis C virus on their own as late as age seven. This is different than adults who can have spontaneous clearance, but virtually never after six months of initially being infected.
- While there is still a slim hope of spontaneous clearance, children who do not clear the virus by age two are considered chronically infected with Hepatitis C.
- It is estimated that there are 23,000 to 46,000 children in the U.S. with Hepatitis C. In comparison, approximately four million American adults have the virus.
- Doctors do not treat children with Hepatitis C until they reach age three because of concerns of possible toxicity, a low chance of significant liver damage and the potential for spontaneous clearance.
- The earliest an infant can be tested for Hepatitis C is three months old because of a high rate of temporarily positive tests in younger babies.
- In standard doses, acetaminophen or ibuprofen is generally safe for children with Hepatitis C unless they have very advanced liver disease.
- Those born with the Hepatitis C virus tend to have mild liver disease, with about 80 percent having very low to no liver scarring in their first 18 years.
The likelihood of children being born with the Hepatitis C virus is low. The impact of this illness on children is less than what an adult experiences – prompting some doctors to employ the wait and see approach to treatment while others advise therapy as soon as the child is ready. Either way, make sure you know these 12 facts about vertical transmission if you have a child coming or you suspect your baby to be infected with Hepatitis C.
http://kidshealth.schn.health.nsw.gov.au/fact-sheets/hepatitis-c-virus-infection-children, Hepatitis C Virus Infection in Children, Retrieved April 21, 2012, New South Wales Health Department, 2013.
http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/c/cfaq.htm, Hepatitis C FAQs for the Public, Retrieved April 21, 2013, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013.
http://www.childrenshospital.org/az/Site3289/mainpageS3289P1.html, Hepatitis C, Retrieved April 21, 2013, Boston Children’s Hospital, 2013.
http://www.liverfoundation.org/chapters/rockymountain/doctorsnotes/pediatrichcv/, Hepatitis C in Children, Michael R. Narkewitz, MD, Retrieved April 21, 2013, American Liver Foundation, 2013.
http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/717069_1, Treatment of Hepatitis C in Children, Paloma Jara, Loreto Hierro, Retrieved April 21, 2013, Expert Review of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, February 2010.
http://www.roche.com/media/media_releases/med-cor-2013-03-18.htm, Roche’s Pegasys receives EU approval for the treatment of chronic hepatitis C in children five years of age and older, Retrieved April 21, 2013, F. Hoffman-La Roche, Ltd, 2013.
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