Advocates say as many as 3.9 million people are living with chronic hepatitis C. Now doctors are using a new method to treat mothers before they pass the virus down to their children.
Kareena Wasserman found out she had hepatitis C when she was pregnant with her second child.
"I can remember being in the airport and crying, that this was not what we wanted," she said.
Most people who have hepatitis C don't know they do, because they don't show symptoms. If untreated, it can lead to scarring and liver disease.
The virus spreads through contact with blood that has the virus in it.
"We're seeing the effects of the opioid epidemic by finding more and more adults and young people who are diagnosed with or living with hepatitis c, and then now we're seeing that in pregnant people as well," said Dr. Ravi Jhaveri, Pediatric Infectious Diseases division head at Lurie Children's Hospital.
This November the CDC's added new guidelines to test infants as young as 2 to 6 months old. A June report found only 1 in 3 patients were being cured.
"It's not super urgent, but it's something we want to make sure to address in the first few months, and these will easily be integrated into the planned visits that infants have for the regular vaccines and to check up between 2 and 6 months," said Jhaveri.
Scripps News spoke with Chicago doctors who are treating mothers during pregnancy, instead of postpartum, so the parent doesn't pass the virus to their baby.
They give a 8-12-week course of a once-daily antiviral pill to women in their second or third trimester.
"We can complete the entire course during pregnancy, including all the labs that have to go along with surveillance before, during and after their treatment course. Those can be done along with routine prenatal care, allowing us to hopefully and in most cases, achieve a cure for hepatitis C before the baby's born," said Jhaveri.
Current research on prenatal hepatitis C treatment is small, but doctors says it's promising, so patients like Kareena Wasserman weigh the risks, pros and cons.
"The possibility of having a C-section again was relatively high. And with C-sections, because you're, you know, potentially interacting with blood, there's a higher opportunity and chance to pass on to the baby and to my daughter," said Wasserman.
She underwent the prenatal medication during her third trimester, was cured and delivered a healthy baby girl 5 months ago named Elizabeth.
In 2020, the CDC also put out guidance stating that all pregnant women should be tested for hepatitis C.
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