National Health Service to Offer Hep C Treatment to Children

England’s National Health Service (NHS) has announced it will offer a new treatment for hepatitis C in children. Children in England will be the first in the world to be offered this treatment.1

The NHS is the name of the healthcare system in England. The NHS is publicly funded, and it is the main source of healthcare in the country.2

Hepatitis C in children

Hepatitis C in children is uncommon. Children are most commonly infected with hepatitis C through birth. However, not every mother will pass hep C to her child. Like adults, children can be exposed to hepatitis C through blood-to blood contact, an unsafe blood transfusion, or an unsafe organ transplant.1,3

Many children with hepatitis C will have no symptoms. Because of this, many children may not even be aware they have it. However, the liver can still be damaged even if there are no obvious symptoms. Liver damage can lead to long-term complications. These include increased risk for liver disease, liver cancer, or liver failure.1,3

Because hepatitis C is less common in children, there is limited research on treatment for children. Adults have many options for hepatitis C treatments. But there have been few studies on these treatments in children.1,3

Direct-acting antivirals

Direct-acting antivirals (DAAs) are a new drug used for hepatitis C. Compared to older drugs, they take less time to work and are more likely to cure hepatitis C. They also have fewer side effects than older drugs. DAAs have helped many adults and children successfully cure their hepatitis C.1,4

After treatment, an undetectable viral load of the hepatitis C virus (HCV) is how doctors determine if someone is cured.4

National Health Service hepatitis C treatment

The NHS will now offer children ages 3 and older hepatitis C treatment with DAAs, free of charge. Previously, only children ages 12 and older could receive DAAs. However, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) approved DAAs for children as young as 3. This decision allowed the NHS to start offering treatment to younger children. In the United States, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has already approved several DAAs for use in children.1

After the initial treatment, there are typically 2 follow-up blood tests to check viral load. The first test is given immediately after treatment ends. The second is given 24 weeks later. If both blood tests are negative, the child is considered cured.1

There are many benefits to being able to treat young children for hepatitis C. Treating the virus early on helps prevent serious complications later in life. These complications include liver disease and liver cancer, which can both be fatal. Additionally, someone who has been cured of hepatitis C cannot infect others. This means that curing hepatitis C also helps to slow the spread of the virus.1

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