Study: Only 30% of infants exposed to hepatitis C receive screening

Although there is a growing number of pregnant women infected with hepatitis C virus, a small percentage of their infants are screened for the infection, according to a study published in Pediatrics.

Approximately 2,700 to 4,000 children are diagnosed with hepatitis C annually. The majority (80 percent) of those who acquired it in the weeks immediately before and after birth will develop a chronic infection, the study authors noted. "Delays in diagnosis could lead to delays in appropriate referrals and curative treatment or irreversible liver disease, such as cirrhosis or hepatocellular carcinoma."

The CDC recommends children of infected mothers receive HCV antibody testing at or after 18 months of age, the study authors noted. To examine how frequently patients follow hepatitis C screening recommendations, the researchers analyzed data on roughly 88,000 women who gave birth at Magee-Women's Hospital of UPMC between 2006 and 2014. Of these women, 1.2 percent had been diagnosed with hepatitis C.

During the study period, the rate of hepatitis C among pregnant women increased 60 percent, which researchers linked to the opioid crisis. Those with hepatitis C were more likely to be under 30, white, insured by Medicaid and have issues with opioid use.

Of the 323 infants of infected mothers who received well-child care through UPMC, only around 30 percent were tested for hepatitis C, according to the study. Approximately 8 percent of those tested showed evidence of infection transmission in the weeks immediately before and after birth.

The study authors said the low testing rates may have been due in part to the mothers' diagnoses failing to be transferred to their children's medical records. Since some women may not have known they were infected, the study authors recommended universal screening during pregnancy.

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