What is hepatitis c in children?

Hepatitis C in Children

Caring for your baby when you have hepatitis C: Overview

Hepatitis C is an infection of the liver caused by a virus. The virus is spread by contact with an infected person's blood. So there's a chance that you could have spread it to your baby before or during childbirth. This is more likely to happen if you also have HIV.

It will be important to get your baby tested for hepatitis C. This is usually done when a baby is at least 18 months old. But testing may be done sooner.

If your baby is infected with the virus, the test is repeated at or after age 3. This will tell the doctor if your child needs to be treated. Sometimes a child's body will get rid of the virus without treatment.

You need to be treated for hepatitis C, even if you feel fine now. It's important for your health, for your baby, and for others you're close to. Over time, the virus can damage your liver. Treatment can usually cure hepatitis C. It can also keep you from spreading the virus to others.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis C in children and teens?

Most children infected with hepatitis C don't have any symptoms. Sometimes a child may have mild symptoms, such as belly pain and fatigue. If left untreated, the child may develop symptoms such as itching, joint pain, and jaundice. Even with no symptoms, children and teens who are infected can spread the virus.

How is hepatitis C in children and teens treated?

In some cases, a child's body will clear the virus without treatment. But in most cases, a child will need treatment to get rid of the virus.

Hepatitis C is treated with antiviral medicines. A doctor can prescribe these medicines for an infected child who is age 3 years or older.

Most children can be cured with 8 to 12 weeks of treatment. Follow-up testing is needed to be sure that the infection was cured.

How can you help prevent hepatitis C in children and teens?

There is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C. But there are things you can do to make infection less likely. For example, teach your child or teen that it's important to:

  • Make sure that all tools and supplies are sterilized if they get a piercing or tattoo.
  • Avoid sharing personal items that could have blood on them. These include towels, nail clippers, toothbrushes, and razors.
  • Stay away from drugs. Sharing supplies to inject or snort drugs is the main way the hepatitis C virus is spread.
  • Practice safer sex when they become active. Using condoms can help prevent hepatitis C and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like chlamydia.

If your child has hepatitis C, it's important to help your child avoid spreading the virus to others.

  • Tell the people your child interacts with that your child has hepatitis C. This includes household members, your child's school, your child's doctor and dentist, and anyone else who may come in contact with your child's blood.
  • Help your child's teachers, day care providers, coaches, and babysitters learn about the infection. The virus isn't spread by casual contact, so your child can take part in normal activities. Explain the need to avoid sharing personal items and to avoid contact with blood.
  • Teach your child not to share items that may have blood on them. This includes towels, razors, toothbrushes, and nail clippers.
  • Keep your child's cuts, scrapes, and blisters covered.
  • Wear disposable gloves when you touch anything that has your child's blood on it. Use a diluted bleach solution to clean surfaces that have blood on them. Before you throw away items with blood on them, seal them in a plastic bag.

How is hepatitis C in children and teens diagnosed?

A blood test is used to diagnose hepatitis C. First, a hepatitis C (HCV) antibody test is done. This shows if a child has been exposed to this virus. If the test is positive (which means they have been exposed), then an HCV RNA blood test is done. This test shows if the child is infected with the hepatitis C virus now.

Children need to be tested for hepatitis C if they may have been exposed to infected blood. If the parent who gave birth to the child had hepatitis C, the child is usually tested at or after the age of 18 months. Testing is repeated after the child is 3 years old to find out if treatment is needed. Other children birthed by the same parent may need to be tested too.

How can you care for your baby when you have hepatitis C?

  • Follow your doctor's advice about getting your baby tested for hepatitis C. And if you have other children, talk to your doctor about getting them tested too.
  • Make sure that your baby gets all the recommended childhood vaccines. This includes the vaccines for hepatitis A and hepatitis B. These are usually given in the first 2 years of life. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C.
  • Breastfeed your baby if you can. The virus isn't spread through breast milk. So it's safe to breastfeed while you have hepatitis C unless your nipples are cracked or bleeding.
  • Be safe with medicines. Make sure that the doctor knows about any medicines your baby takes. Some medicines, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), can make liver problems worse. Do not give your baby any new medicine unless the doctor says it is okay.
  • Take steps to avoid spreading the virus to your baby and others.
    • Don't share personal items that may have blood on them. These include towels, razors, toothbrushes, and nail clippers.
    • Keep any cuts, scrapes, or blisters covered.
    • Use a diluted bleach solution to clean surfaces that have blood on them. Before you throw away items with blood on them, seal them in a plastic bag.
    • If you use drugs, don't share supplies used to snort or inject drugs, like needles, syringes, or straws. Sharing supplies is the main way hepatitis C is spread.
  • Take care of yourself.
    • Get treated for hepatitis C. You'll probably be treated after breastfeeding is done (or after delivery if you don't breastfeed).
    • Try to stay healthy by avoiding drugs and alcohol. If you need help to quit, tell your doctor. Treatment can help you get and stay sober.

How does hepatitis C spread to children and teens?

Hepatitis C is spread by contact with an infected person's blood. If a person who has hepatitis C is pregnant, their baby may get infected before or during birth. This is a common way that children get hepatitis C.

There are other ways a child or teen could get infected. They include:

  • Getting a tattoo or a piercing with a needle that wasn't cleaned properly.
  • Sharing personal items with an infected person. Examples include razors, towels, toothbrushes, and nail clippers.
  • Sharing equipment used to inject or snort drugs.
  • Having unprotected sex with someone who's infected. (But this is rare.)

Hepatitis C isn't spread through breast milk. And you can't get it from sharing food or drink, coughing or sneezing, or casual contact like hugging or kissing.

What is hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is an infection of the liver. It's caused by a virus. Sometimes it's a short-term (acute) infection that goes away without treatment. But more often, it becomes a long-term (chronic) infection. It can damage the liver and lead to serious disease. Treatment can usually cure hepatitis C.

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