Viral hepatitis is an infection of the liver by a virus.
Different types of hepatitis are caused by different viruses. The hepatitis A virus (HAV) is the most common cause of hepatitis in children, but since routine vaccination was begun across the US in 2006, it has become a much less common disease.
Someone who is infected may pass hepatitis A to others by not washing his or her hands, especially after using the bathroom. The virus can also be spread from:
Hepatitis B virus (HBV) 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, you can get it from:
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. Sometimes it is spread through sexual contact. In rare cases hepatitis C is passed from a pregnant woman to her baby. It appears to have little risk for spread through breast-feeding.
There are also some other, rarer types of hepatitis.
Hepatitis is not spread by hugging or kissing, sneezing, coughing, or casual contact.
Sometimes there are outbreaks of hepatitis A at day care centers or restaurants.
Children under 6 years old often have no symptoms. Teens and adults usually have symptoms.
Symptoms of hepatitis include:
Your child’s healthcare provider will ask about your child’s medical history and symptoms. Your provider will look at your child’s skin and eyes for signs of hepatitis. Your provider will check the belly to see if the liver is bigger than it should be or hurts when it is touched.
Your child will have blood tests. If blood tests show that the liver is not working normally, your child 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 usual treatment is rest. Your child should rest while he or she has fever or jaundice. When fever and jaundice are gone, your child may gradually increase activity.
Once your child recovers from hepatitis A, the virus leaves the body. But sometimes hepatitis B or C viruses stay in the body and cause a chronic (ongoing) infection. This means the virus keeps affecting the liver for several months or years. Damage to the liver by the infection can scar the liver and lead to other health problems, such as scarring (cirrhosis) of the liver or even liver cancer. Some medicines are used to treat chronic hepatitis. These medicines can help, but do not cure the disease. Your child’s healthcare provider will test your child’s blood at follow-up appointments for signs of chronic liver disease.
Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B can be prevented by vaccines that all babies should receive. If a child did not receive the hepatitis vaccines as a baby, he or she may get the shots later in childhood or as a teenager.
The best way to prevent exposure to hepatitis is good handwashing. Children should wash their hands every time they go to the bathroom. Good handwashing should be enforced at home and at day care.
With hepatitis A, it is also important to keep a clean environment, such as clean toilets, bathrooms, and clothing.
After you know which type of hepatitis your child has, people living in the same house as the child should be treated to prevent spread of the disease. Your healthcare provider will help plan treatment for your family. This treatment is used only to help prevent the disease. It does not treat the actual infection.