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Hepatitis C Treatment May Hamper Kids' Growth

MONDAY, Aug. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Children with hepatitis C who are treated with peginterferon alpha may experience growth-related side effects from the therapy, a new study reveals.

Although weight changes are reversible, many children's height for their age may be lower even after the treatment for hepatitis C virus (HCV) ends, the researchers found.

The study was published in the August issue of Hepatology.

"While HCV in children is typically mild, some cases do progress to cirrhosis and liver cancer," lead study author Dr. Maureen Jonas, director of the Center for Childhood Liver Disease and medical director of the Liver Transplant Program at Boston Children's Hospital, said in a journal news release.

"Treatment of HCV with peginterferon and ribavirin is approved for young children and offers the most benefit while liver disease is mild. However, there are concerns about the potential side effects of peginterferon therapy in children, which is the focus of our current study," Jonas explained.

The researchers followed 107 children (average age 11) with chronic hepatitis C, who participated in a study on the safety of hepatitis C treatments for an additional two years. Of these children, 55 percent were boys and 82 percent were white. When their treatment began, all of the children were of normal height, weight and body mass index (BMI), a measurement that takes both weight and height into account.

The children were divided into three groups based on how long they were treated with peginterferon: 24, 48 or 72 weeks. The study found that while on the therapy, some of the children had decreases in height, weight, and BMI scores compared to standard scores. Moreover, 33 percent of the children on the therapy for 48 weeks showed even larger decreases in height-for-age scores.

Children who had been treated with peginterferon for 48 or 72 weeks had lower average height scores at the two-year follow-up point than when treatment began. The children's height-for-age scores did not rebound as quickly as their weight and BMI. However, the children's diet and level of physical activity had not changed over the course of the study.

"Additional investigation of growth patterns is needed to determine long-term outcomes so that optimal timing of treatment can be determined for children with chronic HCV," Jonas concluded.

Although the study found an association with peginterferon treatment and changes in children's growth patterns, it did not show a cause-and-effect relationship.

More information

Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to learn more about hepatitis C.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: Hepatology, news release, Aug. 9, 2012

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