The purpose of this prospective-retrospective study was to provide information about the clinical features and progression of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection transmitted perinatally. Seventy children born to HCV infected woman were enrolled consecutively in five European centers between 1990 and 1999, provided they had HCV RNA in the serum during the first year of life and/or were still anti-HCV positive at 18 months. Sixty-two infants were followed up to 24 months of age or more (range, 24 months-11 years; average, 4.8 +/- 2.3 years). A wide range of ALT elevation was observed in 93% of the infants in the first year of life. During the follow-up, a sustained ALT normalization with loss of HCV RNA was seen in 12/62 (19%) of the children within 30 months of life; 66% of the infants had developed an ALT peak greater than 5x normal at onset (vs. 28% of children with persistent viremia; P < 0.05), and 50% had HCV genotype 3 (vs. 17% of viremic children). Conversely the cumulative probability of chronic progression was 81%. Chronic infection was asymptomatic and liver disease was mild in all 11 children who underwent a biopsy. In conclusion the early stage of acquired perinatally HCV infection is characterized by a wide range of ALT abnormalities, suggesting the interaction of multiple host and virus factors. The chronic progression rate of infection is high, but the associated liver disease is usually mild. High ALT levels at onset seem to offer greater opportunity of biochemical remission and loss of viremia during follow-up.
Copyright 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.