Viral hepatitis is an infection of the liver by a virus. The liver is one of the largest organs and a very important part of your child’s body. Some of the functions of the liver include:
When your child has hepatitis, the liver is irritated (inflamed). It may be swollen and tender.
Different types of hepatitis are caused by different viruses.
Hepatitis A is caused by the hepatitis A virus. This is the most common cause of hepatitis in children. The virus is spread by contact with infected bowel movements. Someone who is infected may pass the infection to others by not washing his hands, especially after using the bathroom. It is also possible to pass the virus by not washing your hands after changing a diaper or helping a child use the toilet. Sometimes there are outbreaks of hepatitis A at day care centers or restaurants. Your child might also get the virus from:
Hepatitis B virus is the second most common type of hepatitis in children. It can spread from contact with the blood or other body fluids of someone who is infected with the virus. For example, your child can get it from:
The virus can live on objects for 7 days or more. Even if you don’t see any blood, there could be virus on an object.
A pregnant woman can pass hepatitis B to her baby if she is infected when the child is born.
Hepatitis C is spread mainly through contact with the blood of someone who is infected. This can happen from needle sticks with infected needles or anything else that has blood on it. Sometimes it is spread through sexual contact. A pregnant woman can pass hepatitis C to her baby if she is infected when the child is born. It appears to have little risk for spread through breast-feeding.
There are also other types of hepatitis that are not as common.
Your child has a higher risk for infection if he or she has not had a hepatitis A or hepatitis B vaccination and:
Hepatitis is not spread by hugging or kissing, sneezing, coughing, or casual contact.
Young children may have no symptoms. For older children, symptoms may include:
Your child’s healthcare provider will ask about your child’s medical history and symptoms and examine your child. Your child will have blood tests. If blood tests show that the liver is not working normally, your child will have tests to find out if a virus is causing the problems. The tests will also determine the type of virus causing the infection.
The main treatment is rest. Your child should rest while he has fever or jaundice. When fever and jaundice are gone, your child may start increasing his activity according to his healthcare provider’s advice.
Once your child recovers from hepatitis A, the virus leaves the body.
Hepatitis B or C viruses, however, sometimes stay in the body and cause a long-term infection. This means the virus keeps affecting the liver for several months or years. Damage to the liver by the infection can lead to other health problems, such as scarring (cirrhosis) of the liver or even liver cancer. Some medicines are used to treat chronic hepatitis, and sometimes they do help reduce the virus to almost undetectable amounts. Some types of hepatitis can be cured. Your child’s provider will test his blood at follow-up appointments for signs of chronic liver disease.
Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider. In addition:
Ask your provider:
Make sure you know when your child should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.
Hepatitis A and hepatitis B can be prevented with vaccines that all babies should receive. If your child did not get the hepatitis vaccines as a baby, he may get the shots later in childhood or as a teenager.
The best way to prevent exposure to infected body fluids is good hand washing. Children should wash their hands every time they go to the bathroom, at home, and at day care.
If someone in your household has hepatitis: