Chronic Hepatitis C in Childhood: An 18-Year Experience

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Background.The long-term outcome of chronic hepatitis C (CHC) has not been well studied, both for untreated and interferon-treated children. The aim of this study was to evaluate the long-term outcome of disease in a large series of children with CHC.Methods.Clinical, biochemical, virological, and histological features were evaluated in all children (age, 2-18 years) with CHC who did not have concomitant disease and who attended at our hospital's liver unit during the period of 1986-2004.Results.One hundred twenty-five children with CHC were studied. All patients remained free of symptoms throughout the period of observation. On the basis of transaminase levels during the first year of positivity for antibodies to hepatitis C virus (HCV), children were divided into 2 groups: patients with hypertransaminasemia (100 patients, all of whom had detectable HCV RNA), and those with normal transaminases (25 patients; 16 had viremia and 9 did not have viremia). Sustained clearance of viremia was achieved in 38% of the patients treated with interferon, compared with 12% of untreated children (P <.05). A sustained response to therapy was obtained in 64.7% of children infected with an HCV genotype other than genotype 1 and in 24.2% of those infected with HCV genotype 1 (P <.05). Histological lesions were mild in all 64 patients who underwent liver biopsy. No linear correlation was found between duration of disease and progression of fibrosis. Examination of a follow-up liver biopsy specimen revealed cirrhosis only in 1 (4.7%) of 21 children.Conclusions.Children with CHC were symptom free and had a morphologically mild liver disease. Interferon therapy may be effective for patients infected with HCV genotypes other than genotype 1, whereas lower response rates are expected for HCV genotype 1-infected children. The real impact of therapy on long-term outcome remains to be established.

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