The Hazards of Undiagnosed Hepatitis C in Mothers and Infants
Hepatitis C Malpractice in Pregnant Women and Newborns
Hepatitis C, known as HCV, is a virus that scars and weakens the liver. A chronic infection, HCV may lead to liver damage or liver failure if it goes untreated. Many seemingly healthy people have this condition without knowing it, which is among the primary reasons why HCV progresses undiagnosed and liver disease develops. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hepatitis C is the number one cause of fatalities among infectious diseases. Unfortunately, in the absence of timely diagnosis and treatment, individuals with HCV frequently develop liver cancer and other potentially deadly diseases. What’s worse, the lack of signs and symptoms often results in disease transmission from the unsuspecting person to those around them. In perhaps the most tragic scenario, a pregnant woman with undiagnosed Hepatitis C may pass the disease along to her unborn child. If your doctor failed to screen you for HCV while pregnant, your baby’s Hepatitis may have gone undiagnosed, increasing the risk for liver disease. In fact, failure to diagnose and misdiagnosis of Hepatitis C in infants and mothers can lead to grave consequences, with the potential to cause permanent harm for the most vulnerable among us: newborn babies.
Understanding the nuances involved in a case of undiagnosed or untreated Hepatitis in an infant or pregnant woman is paramount, as these cases may constitute medical malpractice. If a doctor or another medical professional was negligent in the diagnosis or management of Hepatitis for you or someone you love, contact our New Jersey attorneys to discuss your case in a free consultation. We can explain the requirements for a medical negligence claim and how we can assist you with successfully obtaining a recovery for your injuries. If negligence on the part of a doctor, hospital, or another medical facility occurred in your case, you may be entitled to compensation for economic damages and pain and suffering. You can reach us online 24/7 or by phone at 973-435-4551 for more information.
Hepatitis C in Infants and Children
While 1 to 2% of adults contract Hepatitis C, it is relatively rare in children. Even still, 6 out of 100 newborns contract the virus from their mothers at birth, so the odds are higher that a child born to a mother with HCV will also be infected. While the prognosis for children who receive Hep C from their mothers at birth is good (40% are virus-free by 2 years without treatment), for those with the virus after age 2, 80% have a chronic infection that causes liver disease. The rest with more serious HCV can develop cirrhosis or scarring of the liver before the age of 10. More importantly, those infected perinatally develop liver cirrhosis earlier than those who contract the disease when they are older.
What Happens if a Pregnant Woman has Hepatitis C?
When a mother is identified as HCV positive, a specially trained pediatric physician trained or phlebotomist should draw blood from the newborn to look for the virus and viral load, which is the amount of the virus in the bloodstream. The HCV-PCR test can be given at 3 months and then again at 9 months to diagnose Hepatitis C in the infant. Then, the growing child should be monitored closely by a gastroenterologist or hematologist trained to spot the signs of maternal infection and screen for liver function. Since Hepatitis C symptoms often mirror those of Hepatitis A and B, pediatricians must know the mother’s health history and refer the child to the appropriate specialists for timely testing and oversight, as well as ensure that the newborn is again tested for infection at 18 months. Moreover, pregnant women should be routinely screened for Hepatitis C, and doctors must be on alert for possible transmission to the newborn.
How is a Child’s Hepatitis Diagnosed?
Diagnosis and treatment in children with Hepatitis C under age 2 can be challenging. The HCV antibody, the protein in the body that fights the infection, is transferred from mother to child in the womb and remains there until the child reaches 18 months. Thus, accurate testing for HCV in children under 2 is difficult because diagnosis begins by locating those HCV-fighting proteins in the bloodstream. The American Pediatric Association recommends testing at 18 months since there are no antiviral drug treatments recommended for a child under 3 with Hepatitis C, and testing an infant under 3 months often yields inaccurate results.
Children over 2 are diagnosed with HCV through blood tests identifying the related antibodies that confirm an infection, which is typically followed by an HCV PCR test that identifies the HCV virus genetic material. A pediatric specialist in infectious diseases, a hepatologist, should diagnose children with the infection, especially since children infected with Hepatitis C often do not show symptoms. Still, they need to be routinely monitored for their health, development, and virus type, specifically screening for liver health through blood tests. High liver enzymes indicate potential liver disease, but not always. A liver biopsy might yield more accurate results for liver damage, although transient elastography that uses low-frequency sound waves to detect liver damage is more prevalent. Additionally, HCV infected children should be vaccinated for Hepatitis A and B.
What is the Treatment for Hepatitis C in Children?
Until recently, a 12-week treatment protocol for HCV-infected children ages 6 to 12 or weighing minimally 37 pounds has been the accepted treatment. Specifically, an antiviral therapy using sofosbuvir, sometimes with ribavirin or with ledipasvir, effectively clears the infection almost entirely for those with genotype 1 HCV infection, and has few side effects. Now, however, the FDA has approved a more expansive treatment for pediatric patients with any type of Hepatitis C. Epclusa, which is a combination of sofosbuvir and velpatasvir, is the newest arrival on the Hepatitis C battlefront. This latest treatment covers children with all strains of the virus who have no liver damage or solely mild liver damage.
Ribavirin is added to the Epclusa treatment for those children with severe liver damage. Potential side effects include headache and fatigue. However, those children with both Hepatitis C and B should be treated for both. Children who undergo antiviral treatment for Hepatitis C run the risk of stirring the Hepatitis B virus if not simultaneously treating both, which can be extremely dangerous. In fact, Hepatitis B activated by Hepatitis C treatment can lead to kidney failure and even prove fatal. Physicians should be sure that a pediatric patient does not have Hepatitis B before beginning Hepatitis C treatment. Since each child has a unique expression of the infection, treatment should be likewise individual.
Failure to Properly Diagnose and Treat Hepatitis C is Common, Discuss Your Potential Claim with a NJ Malpractice Lawyer
Failure to diagnose and failure to treat a medical condition are among the leading causes for medical malpractice claims in New Jersey . Your obstetrician or pediatrician may have breached their duty to you and your child if they failed to screen you for Hepatitis C in a timely manner, or diagnose and treat your child’s HCV. If so, you may be entitled to recover compensation for your medical expenses, including future medical care and treatment, as well as other damages resulting from these errors. If you believe your physician or hospital was negligent, our skilled medical malpractice lawyers in New Jersey are highly familiar with Hepatitis malpractice litigation and we are here to be your legal resources. We will thoroughly investigate your case to uncover if, when, and how medical negligence occurred and vigorously pursue the compensation you and your child deserve. Call 973-435-4551 for a free consultation.
- Hepatitis C Testing in Infants: What Happens Next?, Healthline
- Hepatitis C in Children, American Liver Foundation
- A Call to Action for Hepatitis C Virus Screening during Pregnancy, ACSM
- Hospital-Acquired Infections