So why are so many kids missed? According to Delgado-Borrego, there's a widespread lack of awareness of the condition and adequate screening is not often done. Moreover, children are too often not referred to treatment.
"Primary care doctors should screen all children who are at risk for hepatitis C infection, such as those whose mothers are infected," Delgado-Borrego said.
In addition, infected children should be referred to specialists, she added.
"Early identification of pediatric hepatitis C infection would likely help us cure the infection in over 50 percent of children that currently have it," Delgado-Borrego pointed out. "This would save children from liver damage as well as possible liver failure, liver cancer and even early death," she added.
Dr. Marc Siegel, an associate professor of medicine at New York University, said that, "this is a pretty shocking study."
Siegel said early diagnosis of hepatitis C is very important, especially in children. "Because if kids have it they have a lifetime of exposure to it, so the chances of damage to the liver is very high," he explained.
Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver transplantation, Siegel noted.
For more information on hepatitis C, visit the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
SOURCES: Aymin Delgado-Borrego, M.D., MPH, pediatric gastroenterologist and assistant professor, pediatrics, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine; Marc Siegel, M.D., associate professor, medicine, New York University, New York City; May 2, 2010, presentation, Digestive Disease Week, New Orleans
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