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Only 30 Percent of Infants Exposed to Hepatitis C Screened For Infection

Why Hepatitis C is on the rise and important research at Cook Children’s to treat it

Because of the opioid crisis in the United States, the rate of hepatitis C virus infection among pregnant women increased 60 percent between 2006 and 2014. Sadly, only 30 percent of infants exposed to the virus were screened for infection.

Hepatitis C can be passed from affected mom to their babies. If left untreated over many years, hepatitis C causes cirrhosis of the liver, liver cancer and even death.

The recent study published in the latest edition of Pediatrics says the recent increase in the disease is most likely due to the opioid epidemic in the United States.

The researchers looked at a database of 87,924 pregnant women who delivered at Pittsburgh University Medical Center. The doctors who performed the study recommended universal hepatitis C screening during pregnancy, especially in high prevalence areas.

“This study is important because it shows the importance of proper screening, prior to pregnancy,” said Mary Suzanne Whitworth, M.D., medical director of Infectious Diseases at Cook Children’s. “Without proper screening, children run the risk of going undiagnosed with hepatitis C until they show symptoms. Hepatitis C doesn’t cause symptoms at first, but can lead to irreversible liver disease if not treated.”

Because of the serious nature of the disease, Cook Children’s has been involved in the research of new drugs that could change the lives of teenagers with hepatitis C.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the use of Harvoni and Sovaldi in the treatment of young people between the ages of 12 and 17. The drugs have proven to be more than 95 percent effective in the treatment of hepatitis C for those who have used the drugs.

Dr. Whitworth calls her research into the effectiveness of these drugs the “most rewarding thing I’ve done in the last 20 years. Hands down.”

Click to learn more about her work.

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