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World J Gastroenterol. 2016 Jan 28;22(4):1382-92. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v22.i4.1382.

Vertically acquired hepatitis C virus infection: Correlates of transmission and disease progression.

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Pier-Angelo Tovo, Carmelina Calitri, Carlo Scolfaro, Clara Gabiano, Silvia Garazzino, Department of Pediatrics, School of Medicine, University of Torino, Ospedale Infantile Regina Margherita, Città della Salute e della Scienza, 10126 Torino, Italy.


The worldwide prevalence of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection in children is 0.05%-0.4% in developed countries and 2%-5% in resource-limited settings, where inadequately tested blood products or un-sterile medical injections still remain important routes of infection. After the screening of blood donors, mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) of HCV has become the leading cause of pediatric infection, at a rate of 5%. Maternal HIV co-infection is a significant risk factor for MTCT and anti-HIV therapy during pregnancy seemingly can reduce the transmission rate of both viruses. Conversely, a high maternal viral load is an important, but not preventable risk factor, because at present no anti-HCV treatment can be administered to pregnant women to block viral replication. Caution is needed in adopting obstetric procedures, such as amniocentesis or internal fetal monitoring, that can favor fetal exposure to HCV contaminated maternal blood, though evidence is lacking on the real risk of single obstetric practices. Mode of delivery and type of feeding do not represent significant risk factors for MTCT. Therefore, there is no reason to offer elective caesarean section or discourage breast-feeding to HCV infected parturients. Information on the natural history of vertical HCV infection is limited. The primary infection is asymptomatic in infants. At least one quarter of infected children shows a spontaneous viral clearance (SVC) that usually occurs within 6 years of life. IL-28B polymorphims and genotype 3 infection have been associated with greater chances of SVC. In general, HCV progression is mild or moderate in children with chronic infection who grow regularly, though cases with marked liver fibrosis or hepatic failure have been described. Non-organ specific autoantibodies and cryoglobulins are frequently found in children with chronic infection, but autoimmune diseases or HCV associated extrahepatic manifestations are rare.


Disease progression; Hepatitis C virus; Pediatrics; Risk factors; Spontaneous viral clearance; Vertical transmission

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