The Hepatitis C Virus in Children

Unfortunately not enough is known about children with Hepatitis C because researchers and physicians have a difficult time tracking down children who suffer from this terrible infection.  There are two reasons for this. One is that children are less likely to show symptoms if they do have it and the second reason is that few of them are infected. Based on the way that people become infected with the Hepatitis C virus, also known as HCV, which is by blood-to-blood contact, this is not a surprise.  Children are not drug users, do not engage in unsafe sex nor are they as likely to be on dialysis or have blood transfusions.

Before changes in 1992, that improved blood testing making it more sensitive, and lowering infection risks to one in one hundred thousand, transfusions and maternal transfer were the ways that children were infected.  Its believed that a quarter of a million American children have Hepatitis C. The biggest issue here is that most of them remain untreated because no one knows they have the infection. Even the ones who have passed into the chronic stage only rarely show symptoms. If they do it may be that they are overly tired or even have some stomach pain that can't be easily defined.  But a doctor is unlikely to conclude from those that testing should be done for HCV.

Some studies have been conducted to try and understand how the Hepatitis C virus is passed to children and how their bodies deal with it. So far studies are inconclusive. They show that during heart surgeries there is more of a chance for a child to be infected by blood transfusion. But there is an equal chance of the child's body flushing the infection out, as there is that the child will remain infected. With adults there is a twenty five percent chance of having a spontaneous viral clearance.

Studies of children who have become infected by transmission from their mothers seem to pose as many questions as they answer.  For one thing it's not clear when the baby becomes infected. Researchers are not certain if it's in the womb or during the actual birth. They do know that it is not during breastfeeding, which is safe as long as the mother's nipples do not crack or bleed. Serum levels in these children are high for a short time and then seem to return to normal. But a liver biopsy will show that they have chronic hepatitis.

When treatment of children with Hepatitis C is begun in the acute stage its very successful. It appears that if only interferon is used in treatment, not in combination with anything, then the success rate is as high as seventy percent. But even these results pose questions for researchers. They do not know if it's the size of the dose, the smaller subject or a result of being able to track the disease's beginnings. Hopefully continued studies will conclude the best way to treat HCV in children.

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