Chronic hepatitis C in children – review of natural history at a National Centre

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SUMMARY.The natural history of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection in adults has been established, but less is known about outcome in children. We conducted a retrospective review of patients referred to Birmingham Children’s Hospital Liver Unit, from 1991 till 2008, with the diagnosis of HCV was undertaken. Only children with documented positive HCV RNA and a minimum duration of follow-up of 6 months were included. One hundred and thirty-three children were identified. The route of transmission was transfusion acquired in 47%, vertically acquired in 49% and transplantation in 2%. Since 2000, most children were infected vertically. The overall rate of spontaneous viral clearance was 17.5% with higher clearance (27%) in the transfusion group compared to the vertically acquired group (9%). Seventy-six had a liver biopsy at diagnosis. There was no evidence of fibrosis in 46%, mild fibrosis in 50% and moderate to severe fibrosis in 4%. None had cirrhosis. There was a statistically significant relationship between fibrosis score and older age at the time of biopsy (P = 0.02) and longer duration of infection (P = 0.05). Eighty children received treatment for HCV. Sustained viral response (SVR) was influenced by viral genotypes, with significantly increased response rates in genotypes (G) 2 and 3 compared to G 1 and 4. Vertical infection is now the major route of HCV infection in children in the UK. Histological changes were mild at diagnosis, but the severity of fibrosis progressed with age. Consideration should be given to improve detection and diagnosis to refer children to specialist centres for management and antiviral therapy before developing fibrosis.

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