Research Article: Growth Abnormalities in Children with Chronic Hepatitis B or C

Date Published: March 4, 2012

Publisher: Hindawi Publishing Corporation

Author(s): P. Gerner, Andre Hörning, S. Kathemann, K. Willuweit, S. Wirth.


Background. It has been suggested that chronic hepatitis B infection leads to growth impairment, but data are inconsistent and underlying factors are not defined. Methods. Children and adolescents with chronic hepatitis B (HBV) or C (HCV) were retrospectively evaluated for growth, weight, antiviral treatment, biochemical signs of liver inflammation, route of infection, and HBV DNA, respectively. Results. In all, 135 children (mean age 6.1 years, 81 male, 54 female) with HBV (n = 78) or HCV (n = 57) were studied. Route of infection was vertical in 50%, parenteral in 11%, and unknown in 39%. ALT levels were above 1.5 times above normal in 30% while 70% had normal/near normal transaminases. 80% were Caucasian, 14% Asian, 1% black, and 4% unknown. Mean baseline height measured in SDS was significantly lower in the study population than in noninfected children (boys −1.2, girls −0.4, P < 0.01). 28 children were below 2 standard deviations of the norm while 5 were above 2 standard deviations. SDS measures in relation to individual factors were as follows: elevated ALT: boys −1.4, females −0.5 (P < 0.01), ALT normal/near normal: boys +0.4, females +0.6; parenteral transmission: boys −3.3, girls −0.9 (P < 0.01), vertical transmission: boys −0.2, females −0.2. Antiviral treatment itself or HBV-DNA load did not reach statistically significant differences. Conclusions. Chronic HBV or HCV may lead to compromised growth which is mostly influenced by liver inflammation. Our data may argue for early antiviral treatment in children with significant ALT elevation.

Partial Text

It is estimated that more than half of the world’s population has been infected with hepatitis B virus (HBV) or hepatitis C virus (HCV), and 400–550 million people are chronic carriers. Since both are not cholestatic liver diseases, neither chronic hepatitis B (CHB) nor chronic hepatitis C (CHC) have been associated with those liver disorders most likely to affect the nutritional status and growth of children. A number of potential causes of malnutrition in chronic liver diseases have been identified [1], but previous studies have suggested that children with chronic hepatitis B or C seem to be smaller than children without infection [2, 3]. However, relatively few studies with limited numbers of patients have evaluated the impact of CHB on children’s growth [2–5]. Moreover, to our knowledge there is no study investigating growth of children with chronic hepatitis C. Furthermore, there is little knowledge about the influence of the specific virological status such as high or low viral load and elevated or normal transaminases, the route of infection and antiviral treatment.

Pediatric patients in this study are chronically infected with either hepatitis B or C. They were collected from three centers: Childrens’ Hospital Essen University, Childrens’ Hospital Helios Klinikum Wuppertal, and the Childrens’ Hospital Klinikum im Friedrichhein Berlin. In a retrospective study all patients in these hospitals with the diagnosis of chronic HBV or HCV who were in medical attendance since the year 2000 were included in this study. The baseline characteristics of the 135 children included in this study are shown in Table 1.

The SDSs for the 135 HBV- or HCV-infected children at their last visit in the three study centers are shown in Figure 1, the median SDS is shown in Figure 2. Since there was a difference between boys and girls, SDS is demonstrated for each group. The median SDS for both was −0.9 which corresponds to compromised height regarding a reference population as published [6]. The height of males tended to be more compromised than that of females; however, sex was only of borderline significance. 28 children showed significant growth impairment of more than 2 standard deviations (see Figure 1).

In this study, we evaluated the impact of chronic hepatitis B or C on growth of children and adolescents. We found that children with HBV or HCV showed compromised growth, and correlation with clinical variables was able to identify factors that might play a crucial role for growth abnormalities. In general, high transaminases were associated with short stature. The second factor that negatively influenced growth was parenteral transmission. These two factors are likely to be linked as children who are infected later in life (which is usually the case in parenterally transmitted individuals) are less likely to be in the so-called immunotolerant phase. This phase is a well-described phenomenon in childhood, and the great majority of children in this phase are perinatally (vertically) infected. As their immune system is not yet fully developed, T cells do less harm to infected hepatocytes by cytolytic processes. Therefore, in these children transaminases are within normal range for years or even decades until the immunotolerance against HBV switches to the immune competent phase. In our opinion, it is reasonable that the route of infection and liver inflammation reflect the same underlying factor for growth impairment. However, it has to be noted that in this study only 15 patients were transmitted parenterally, and therefore these data need to be confirmed in other trials. Our data are in line with another study consisting of 72 children with significant ALT elevation who were also found to be smaller than others [3]. In contrast, there is one report about Turkish pediatric patients in which no negative effect of hepatitis B on growth was demonstrated [7]. Due to the low number of only 34 immunoactive and 15 immunotolerant HBV patients involved, this study may have been underpowered. The finding of a negative effect of ALT elevation is surprising since liver biopsies of these children do rarely show significant liver damage [8]. Usually the liver shows no or only mild inflammation. Nevertheless, it seems possible that also mild but chronic liver inflammation is capable to lead to impaired growth. This explanation is only speculative and it is also possible, as with other chronic diseases, that the mechanism underlying compromised growth is multiple and complex. For example, factors such as decreased caloric intake, malabsorption of nutrients, effects of chronic liver disease on IGF production in the liver or inflammatory mediators may contribute to compromised growth in children with HBV or HCV. However, if verified in other studies our data provide one further argument for early antiviral treatment in children with biochemical signs of liver inflammation despite histologic mild pathology.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.