Hepatitis B and C viruses in infants and young children.
Advances during the past 20 years have led to a better understanding of the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of acute and chronic hepatitis B (HBV) and hepatitis C (HCV) infections in the pediatric population. Universal vaccination and prenatal testing for HBV have decreased the incidence rate of acute HBV infections from more than 3/100,000 to 0.34/100,000 in all children. Diagnosis of chronic HBV is confirmed with positive serologic testing on two occasions at least 6 months apart. Current approved therapies with interferon alpha and lamivudine for children with chronic HBV infection have shown some efficacy, but results have been variable. In contrast, the lack of an effective HCV vaccine and the risk of mother-to-child transmission may increase the number of children with vertically acquired HCV that ultimately go on to develop liver fibrosis or cirrhosis. Diagnosis of HCV in the neonate should be postponed until after the child reaches 1 year of age because infants may have transient viremia. Treatment for HCV infected children has not been studied extensively. Peginterferon alpha-2a and Ribavirin are not currently approved for pediatric use; however, recent studies in children have shown potential benefit. More effective and less toxic therapies for young patients with HBV and HCV are needed, as are methods to interrupt perinatal transmission of HBV and HCV.
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