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Pitt Study Finds Most Babies Born To Mothers With Hep C Aren't Screened For The Virus

Hep C can lead to serious liver damange, which may lead to cancer and other complications.

Seven out of 10 babies born to mothers with Hepatitis C at Magee-Women’s Hospital of UPMC are not screened for the virus, which can cause serious liver damage.

The information comes from a new study from the University of Pittsburgh, published last week in the journal Pediatrics, which looked at children who continued to receive pediatric care from UPMC through their second birthday.

Meanwhile, the number of women with the virus delivering at the hospital has increased by 60 percent since 2006. Gynecologist Catherine Chappell, the study’s lead author, attributes that rise to the opioid epidemic and the use of IV drugs.

Babies exposed to the virus during pregnancy should be screened for it at 18 months, Chappell said.

“We’ve dropped the ball in the health care system somehow,” she said. “It’s either that we’re not telling moms that this is important, pediatricians are not getting the information that this is important or that this is even an issue in these individual patients. So, the ball is really in our court to fix this.”

Of the children who were exposed in utero, 8.4 percent became infected, which is a higher rate of transmission than what has been documented by previous research.

Chappell said that much of the data on the virus is from studies in Egypt. That country has the world’s highest prevalence of Hepatitis C due to a 1960s-'80s vaccine campaign, which reused poorly sterilization needles. 

“That is a very different scenario of perinatal transmission from one-time exposure,” said Chappell, “rather than ongoing IV drug use and repeated exposure to Hepatitis C.”

Right now, Chappell said she’s also keeping an eye on HIV and Hep-B rates, which at this time are not increasing. But she said that could change.

“It just takes one person in the network…to spread among a number of people who are sharing needles, so it’s something that we need to be vigilant about for sure,” she said.

Chappell said she’s working to put an alert in the medical records of Hep C-exposed infants to make sure pediatricians test for the virus.

90.5 WESA receives funding from the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC.

(Photo Credit: Administración Nacional de la Seguridad Social/Flickr)

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio where she covered a range of issues, including the 2016 Iowa Caucuses.