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Hepatitis C in Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Oct 3, 2022.

What is hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is inflammation of the liver caused by hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. Hepatitis C is less common in children than in adults.

Abdominal Organs

How is HCV spread?

Babies are usually infected during birth. Adolescents are usually infected through injecting drugs, sharing needles, or having unprotected sex with an infected person. The following may also increase your child's risk:

  • A stick from an infected needle
  • An object with infected blood or body fluids on it touches a wound
  • Sharing personal items, such as razors, toothbrushes, or nail clippers with someone who has hepatitis C
  • Rarely, a blood transfusion, organ transplant, or long-term kidney dialysis

What are the signs and symptoms of hepatitis C?

Your child may not have symptoms. If symptoms develop, he or she may have any of the following:

  • Fatigue
  • Dark urine or pale bowel movements
  • Jaundice (yellow skin or eyes) and itchy skin
  • Joint pain, body aches, or weakness
  • Loss of appetite, nausea, or vomiting

How is hepatitis C diagnosed?

Your child's healthcare provider will ask about signs and symptoms and any health problems he or she has. Tell him or her if your child has other infections, such as HIV or hepatitis B.

  • Your child will be tested when he or she is at least 18 months if he or she was infected during birth. This is because his or her body will have HCV antibodies from his or her mother.
  • Your adolescent may need to be tested if he or she drinks alcohol, uses certain drugs, or is sexually active. The provider may recommend that your adolescent get ongoing hepatitis C tests if his or her risk remains high.
  • The following tests help diagnose hepatitis C in children older than 18 months and adolescents:
    • Blood tests are used to check for HCV antibodies to fight the infection. The tests can show the type of HCV, and how many viruses are present.
    • An ultrasound is used to check for liver problems caused by HCV.
    • A liver biopsy is used to test for liver swelling, scarring, and other damage.

How is hepatitis C treated?

HCV may go away without treatment when it is passed from a mother to her baby during birth. Your child may not need treatment if his or her body fights the HCV. His or her infection will be chronic if it has not gone away by the time he or she is 2 years old. Children younger than 3 years usually do not receive treatment. Your child's healthcare provider will talk to you about any treatments your child or adolescent may need. Medicines may be given to keep the virus from spreading. Medicines may also prevent or decrease liver swelling and damage. Rarely, surgery may be needed to replace your child's liver with a healthy liver.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

What can I do to manage my child's hepatitis C?

  • Talk to your child's healthcare provider about vaccines. He or she will need hepatitis A and B vaccines if he or she has not received them. He or she should also get the flu vaccine each year.
    Recommended Immunization Schedule 2022
  • Offer a variety of healthy foods. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, beans, and lean meats and fish. Ask if your child needs to be on a special diet.
  • Have your child drink extra liquids. Liquids help the liver function properly. Ask your child's healthcare provider how much liquid your child needs each day and which liquids are best for him or her.
  • Help your child get more rest. Have your child slowly return to his or her normal activities when he or she feels better.
  • Talk to your adolescent about not drinking alcohol. Alcohol can increase liver damage. Talk to your healthcare provider if your adolescent drinks alcohol and needs help to stop.
  • Talk to your adolescent about not smoking. Nicotine can damage blood vessels and make it more difficult to manage hepatitis C. Smoking can also lead to more liver damage. Ask your healthcare provider for information if your adolescent currently smokes and needs help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before your adolescent uses these products.

What can I do to prevent the spread of HCV?

  • Have your child cover any open cuts or scratches. If blood from your child's wound gets on a surface, clean the surface with bleach right away. Put on gloves before you clean. Throw away any items with blood or body fluids on them, as directed by your healthcare provider.
  • Do not let your child share personal items. These items include toothbrushes, nail clippers, and razors.
  • Talk to your adolescent about safe sex. If your adolescent is sexually active, tell him or her to use a condom during sex. Sexually active girls should have their male partners wear a condom.
  • Tell household members that your child has hepatitis C. They may need to be tested for HCV. Regular handwashing is important for your child and everyone who lives with him or her. Everyone should wash after the bathroom and before eating. Ask your healthcare provider if you should tell childcare providers or school officials that your child has hepatitis C.
  • Protect your baby. Ask your healthcare provider if it is safe for you to breastfeed.
  • Do not let your child donate blood. Donations are checked for HCV, but it is best not to donate.

What can I do to prevent the spread of germs?

  • Keep your child away from other people while he or she is sick. This is especially important during the first 3 to 5 days of illness. The virus is most contagious during this time.
  • Have your child wash his or her hands often. He or she should wash after using the bathroom and before preparing or eating food. Have your child use soap and water. Show him or her how to rub soapy hands together, lacing the fingers. Wash the front and back of the hands, and in between the fingers. The fingers of one hand can scrub under the fingernails of the other hand. Teach your child to wash for at least 20 seconds. Use a timer, or sing a song that is at least 20 seconds. An example is the happy birthday song 2 times. Have your child rinse with warm, running water for several seconds. Then dry with a clean towel or paper towel. Your older child can use hand sanitizer with alcohol if soap and water are not available.
  • Remind your child to cover a sneeze or cough. Show your child how to use a tissue to cover his or her mouth and nose. Have your child throw the tissue away in a trash can right away. Then your child should wash his or her hands well or use a hand sanitizer. Show your child how to use the bend of his or her arm if a tissue is not available.
  • Tell your child not to share items. Examples include toys, drinks, and food.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your child has severe abdominal pain.
  • Your child is too dizzy to stand up.
  • Your child feels confused or is very sleepy.
  • Your child's bowel movements are red or black, and sticky.
  • Your child vomits blood or material that looks like coffee grounds.
  • Your child is vomiting and cannot keep food or liquids down.

When should I call my child's doctor?

  • Your child has a fever.
  • Your child's abdomen or legs have a rash or are swollen.
  • Your child is bruising easily.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Learn more about Hepatitis C

Treatment options

Care guides

Symptoms and treatments guides (external)

Further information

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