People who contract hepatitis C virus (HCV) from their mothers at birth, or perinatally, tend to develop cirrhosis at younger ages than those who contracted the virus during childhood but via other routes, MedPage Today reports.

Publishing their findings in the Journal of Hepatology, researchers conducted a retrospective review of 1,049 people who contracted HCV before age 18 and were enrolled in the HCV Research United Kingdom Clinical Database and Biobank in 2016 and 2017.

The routes of infection included: injection drug use (53 percent of the cohort), blood product exposure (24 percent) and perinatal infection (11 percent).

Thirty-two percent of the cohort had developed liver disease, at a median age of 32 years old. While cirrhosis was more common among perinatally infected individuals, they developed the severe liver disease at a median age of 36 years old, compared with 48 years old among those infected through injection drug use and 46 years old among those infected through blood products.

Five percent of the cohort had hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC, the most common form of liver cancer), 4 percent had received a liver transplant and 3 percent had died.

A total of 663 members of the cohort were treated for HCV; 406 (75 percent) of them achieved a sustained virologic response 12 weeks after completing therapy (SVR12, considered a cure).

Hep C treatment had a higher success rate among those without cirrhosis. Additionally, 28 percent of those who had cirrhosis at the time they were treated for HCV subsequently experienced progression of liver disease, compared with 13 percent of those without cirrhosis upon starting treatment for the virus. Also, those who had cirrhosis when they began hep C treatment were more likely to develop liver cancer, require a liver transplant and die.

“Early treatment [of HCV], especially before development of cirrhosis, is essential,” the study authors noted. “Detection of HCV should be aimed at relevant risk groups and antiviral therapy should be made available in childhood to prevent long-term liver disease and spread of HCV.”

To read the MedPage Today article, click here.

To read the study abstract, click here.