The most commonly diagnosed bloodborne infection in the country, the hepatitis C virus, or HCV, is also a primary cause of liver failure and cancer. Risk factors for becoming infected include injection drug use and blood transfusions before 1992. Pediatrician Jessica Wen, who specializes in liver diseases, says that she has has teenagers who show up in her office at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia several times a month and receive an unexpected diagnosis of hepatitis C.
A portion of the teens seen by Wen picked up the virus from their mothers at birth. Wen has estimated that approximately 1 or 2 out of every 1,000 youngsters have chronic hepatitis C, according to Elana Gordon of NPR.
Many moms who passed the illness on to their children were not aware they had the virus. Now a study by the Philadelphia Department of Health showed that children with HCV could be unaware that they are infected and will not get the treatments they need in the future to avoid long-term liver damage.
The study found that up to 8 in 10 kids at high risk for hepatitis C exposure in Philadelphia were not screened for the virus. And even more troubling, of the roughly 500 pregnant mothers who registered as being infected with the virus between 2011 and 2013, only 16% of their babies were tested for the infection before they were 20 months old.
Because 30 to 40% of babies will heal from the infection on their own by the age of two, the current regimen for kids who have been exposed to HCV calls for monitoring followed by screening with an antibody test at 18 months.
"Sixteen percent is really low," says Danica Kuncio, lead author of the study. "When you think about children, you hope that the number would be 100 percent, that it should be in the interest of every provider to be doing the best they can to get information to the next provider."
The increase in injection drug use and hepatitis C among women of childbearing age is a concern to Kuncio, who is a Philadelphia epidemiologist. Those who are not aware that they had been infected with the virus when they were babies will not get the medical care needed, nor will they know the virus could pass to others from their blood to blood.
As of 2013, the FDA has approved the first of several medications that in effect kill the virus. These expensive drugs mean that a sickness that was once essentially a death sentence is now curable.
Next, scientists need to create a drug that is safe for young people. A new medicine is currently passing through clinical trials and should be available for patients in at least two years, reports Denise Ehrlich, writing for Capital Berg.
For every 100 babies born to mothers who are infected with HCV, 5 to 7 of the infants will contract the disease. Studies being performed to find a way to prevent even this small number of newborns from being infected have not been made a priority while researchers focus on other features of HCV.
Although some wonder why mothers should be screened if there is nothing that can be done for the babies, others argue that having new drugs for children must be a focus. Fifteen percent of youngsters who do not receive the proper treatment will develop liver scarring or advanced fibrosis.
AAP News says a new tablet available in Australia costing just $6 is being used by patients with HCV and is working in roughly 12 weeks. Australia is subsidizing the $100,000 cure for all who suffer from the malady.
Health Minister Sussan Ley says 5,000 Australians have been healed because of the government's $1 billion determination to list the medication on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme in March. Within a generation, scientists are predicting that the bloodborne condition will be eliminated.
According to the World Health Organization, approximately 52 million people in India are infected with chronic hepatitis, reports Sushmi Dey of the India Times:
"There is need for immediate and urgent action to arrest the spread of hepatitis. In the Southeast Asia region, viral hepatitis is driving rates of liver cancer and cirrhosis, and is causing premature death and disease with over 100 million people chronically infected with hepatitis B and hepatitis C," WHO Regional Director for Southeast Asia Poonam Khetrapal Singh said.
Singh added that the deaths were preventable since there is a treatment for hepatitis B and more than 90% of hepatitis C sufferers can be cured with medication.