Hepatitis C | Diagnosis & Treatment

How is hepatitis C diagnosed?

If a doctor suspects that a child is infected with HCV, they may test the child’s blood to see if it contains antibody to the virus. If the test comes back positive, the doctor will run additional tests for the virus itself and to see which genetic type, or genotype, of the virus the child is carrying. The results of this test will help the doctor recommend the next course of action.

Children and adults with chronic hepatitis C typically undergo periodic tests to monitor their liver inflammation and function and look for signs of serious liver disease.

How is hepatitis C treated?

The course of treatment for hepatitis C depends on what type of HCV a child is carrying. Some types are more common in the United States, while others are found more often in other parts of the world.

Acute and chronic hepatitis C are treated very differently. In prescribing treatment for hepatitis C, doctors aim to eliminate the virus and prevent the progressive liver damage that could lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer.

Treatments for acute hepatitis C

If a child has acute hepatitis C, doctors will typically recommend rest, healthy eating, and drinking plenty of fluids. In some cases, a doctor may prescribe medication to treat acute hepatitis C but most often, it clears up on its own.

Treatments for chronic hepatitis C

If the infection has lasted more than 6 months, doctors may start treatment with two drugs: peginterferon and ribavirin. Doctors do not treat children with hepatitis C until they reach age 3 because of concerns of possible toxicity and the low chance that a child younger than 3 will have significant liver damage from HCV.

Some children with other medical conditions, such as those with thalassemia, other viral infections, or serious kidney disease, may need to be treated differently. You should tell your doctor if your child has any other medical conditions before starting treatment for hepatitis C.

Should a child with hepatitis C get the hepatitis vaccine?

All children and adults with hepatitis C should be vaccinated against the other two major hepatitis viruses, hepatitis A and hepatitis B in order to prevent additional liver inflammation and injury. There is currently no vaccine for hepatitis C.

How can hepatitis C affect my child in the long term?

Children with hepatitis C can lead completely normal lives, attend school and play sports without any special arrangements.

If left untreated or if treatment fails, chronic hepatitis C can last for decades. During that time, it can progressively damage the liver and lead to such complications as cirrhosis and liver cancer. When they become older, children with hepatitis C should avoid drinking alcohol, as it can make the disease progress more quickly.

If the liver begins to fail because of the hepatitis and its complications, your child may need a liver transplant. While hepatitis C is one of the most common reasons for an adult to receive a liver transplant, it is not a common reason among children.