Hepatitis C virus (HCV) remains a major public health burden for >30 years since its discovery. It is estimated that >80 million people have been already infected. Direct-acting antiviral (DAA) treatment is now approved for young children over the age of 3 years. Treating children before the development of high-risk behaviors is optimal. Thus, assessing the current epidemiology of HCV in children becomes important and may promote awareness.
Articles describing the prevalence of hepatitis C in children, were systematically reviewed. To assess HCV infection prevalence in the general population, studies discussing high-risk groups alone were excluded.
Data from 58 studies were analyzed. National data was scarce. An overall prevalence of HCV in children of 0.87% was found, ranging from 0.34% in Europe to 3.02% in Africa. Prevalence of viremic infection is important and data synthesis from available data indicated that HCV viremia was detected in 56.8% of children. The prevalence of HCV according to sex was described in 25 studies but no difference between sexes was detected. HCV prevalence was significantly higher in children older than 10 years (0.97%) when compared to those ages under 10 years old (0.75%, P < 0.001).
Considering probable underdiagnosis of HCV infection in children, this information reveals that prevalence is substantial. One may argue that future strategies aiming towards HCV elimination, may need to include antiviral treatment of pre-adolescent children as well.