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Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus, which is carried in the blood of infected people. According to various estimates, there are anywhere from approximately 3 to 10 million people in the United States who are carriers of the virus. One reason for the uncertainty is that the virus wasn't even diagnosed until the late 1980s. In fact, a majority of hepatitis C virus carriers are still unaware that they have it.
As compared to adults, knowledge of hepatitis C virus infection in children is limited. This is because far fewer children are infected with hepatitis C virus, and children are less likely to have symptoms from their hepatitis C virus infection. Clinical liver disease due to hepatitis C virus is extremely rare in childhood. The exceptions are mainly children with other risk factors (other viruses, chemotherapy, immunosuppression).
The disease is serious for some people, but not for others. Most people who get hepatitis C carry the virus for the rest of their lives. The majority will experience some liver damage, but may not feel sick from the disease. Some people with liver damage due to hepatitis C may develop cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver and liver failure, which may take many years to develop.
Hepatitis C is primarily spread through contact with infected blood. The virus can be passed on by injecting drugs with shared needles; receiving a tattoo, body piercing, or acupuncture with unsterilized equipment; or less commonly through sexual contact. Children are more likely to contract hepatitis C virus through:
It is important to remember that the hepatitis C virus can not spread through:
Although the hepatitis C virus can be detected in blood between one to three weeks after the initial exposure, 80 percent of people with hepatitis C have no symptoms, and thus go undiagnosed., Most patients begin to develop liver cell injury within approximately 50 days, although they will be asymptomatic (symptom-free). In about 15 percent of people exposed to the virus, their bodies clear it out of their system naturally within six months. The remaining 85 percent of people with hepatitis C will develop some level of chronic hepatitis C. Over time, this can cause serious liver damage, although the rate of progression can vary significantly from individual to individual. Hepatitis C symptoms may include:
Serious complications of hepatitis C infection include:
To diagnosis hepatitis C, your child's doctor will ask about symptoms, medical history, and perform a physical exam. Your doctor will also want to discuss your child's risk factors for hepatitis C. Tests that may be conducted include:
Hepatitis C treatment includes medications. The most common are:
The course of this type of treatment is usually over a period of months. These medications can cause side effects that resemble the symptoms of hepatitis C itself, only magnified. However, these antiviral treatments can dramatically reduce the presence of the hepatitis C virus in the bloodstream. The limited studies available on the effectiveness of antiviral treatments on children show that they have an overall better response rate to this therapy than adults.
Even with treatment, hepatitis C infection may not clear up within six months. In rare cases, a liver transplant may be needed. However, it is possible that hepatitis C can affect the new liver after transplantation.
Learn about other Liver Disease States.
Children's Hospital's main campus is located in the Lawrenceville neighborhood. Our main hospital address is:
UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh
One Children’s Hospital Way
4401 Penn Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15224
In addition to the main hospital, Children's has many convenient locations in other neighborhoods throughout the greater Pittsburgh region.
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Interested in giving to Children's Hospital? Visit Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation's website to make a donation online.