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Abstract

An estimated 240,000 children in the United States have antibody to hepatitis C virus (HCV) and 68,000 to 100,000 are chronically infected with HCV. Acute HCV infection is rarely recognized in children outside of special circumstances such as a known exposure from an HCV-infected mother or after blood transfusion. Most chronically infected children are asymptomatic and have normal or only mildly abnormal alanine aminotransferase levels. Although the natural history of HCV infection acquired in childhood seems benign in the majority of instances, the infection takes an aggressive course in a proportion of cases leading to cirrhosis and end-stage liver disease during childhood; the factors responsible for a more aggressive course are unidentified. An optimal approach to management of hepatitis C in children would be prevention, particularly of perinatal transmission, which is now the major cause of new cases of hepatitis C in children. Obstetrical factors may be important determinants of transmission, which, if confirmed, should lead to changes in the care of infected women. Therapy of HCV infection in children is also not well defined. There have been no large randomized, controlled trials of therapy in children with chronic hepatitis C. Small heterogeneous studies of interferon monotherapy have reported sustained virological response rates of 35% to 40%. There are few data regarding the use of combination therapy with interferon and ribavirin in children and no information on the use of peginterferon. Clearly, there are important needs for future epidemiologic and clinical research on hepatitis C in childhood. (HEPATOLOGY 2002;36:S173–S178).