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Hepatitis C in Children


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 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?

If your child was infected during birth, healthcare providers will wait until he is at least 18 months to check for HCV. This is because his body will have HCV antibodies from his mother. Your healthcare provider will ask about your child's signs and symptoms and any health problems he has. Tell him if your child has other infections, such as HIV or hepatitis B. Tell him if your adolescent drinks alcohol or uses any illegal drugs. He may also ask about your adolescent's sex partners. After age 18 months, your child may need any of the following:

  • Blood tests are used to check for HCV antibodies made by your child's body to fight the infection. The tests can show the type of HCV your child has, and how many viruses are present. This will help your child's healthcare provider make a treatment plan if needed.
  • An ultrasound is used to check for liver problems caused by HCV.
  • A liver biopsy is used to test a sample of your child's liver for swelling, scarring, and other damage. A liver biopsy may help healthcare providers learn if your child needs treatment for HCV.

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 body fights the HCV. His infection will be chronic if it has not gone away by the time he 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.

What can I do to help 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 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. 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 are the risks of hepatitis C?

Your child's risk for liver damage is increased if he has chronic hepatitis C. He may develop cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) when he is older. He may also develop liver cancer. Your child may need to be treated in a hospital if his symptoms are severe or he has liver damage.

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

  • Talk to your child's healthcare provider about vaccines. He will need hepatitis A and B vaccines if he has not received them. He should also get the flu vaccine each year.
  • 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.
  • Help your child get more rest. Have your child slowly return to his normal activities when he 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.

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 contact my child's healthcare provider?

  • 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.

© Copyright IBM Corporation 2018 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or IBM Watson Health

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

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