Hepatitis C causes
Hepatitis C is caused by a virus. If you get infected with this virus, the virus travels through your blood to your liver, where it causes inflammation.
Hepatitis C is passed on through blood-to-blood contact – that is, when people come into contact with the blood of someone who has the virus.
This can happen if you share needles during drug use, come into contact with a discarded needle, get a tattoo or body-piercing with a dirty needle, share toothbrushes, razors or other things like that, or have sex without using condoms.
Because hepatitis C is passed on through blood-to-blood contact, it’s also possible for a pregnant woman to pass the virus onto her baby during pregnancy, almost always around the time of birth. All babies of mothers with hepatitis C should be checked for infection.
Women who have hepatitis C can safely breastfeed unless their nipples are cracked or bleeding.
Hepatitis C is rare in children. It’s most common among adults who inject drugs and share contaminated needles.
Some children infected with hepatitis C will develop chronic hepatitis C. They become carriers of the disease, but don’t usually show any symptoms of the virus. Chronic hepatitis C can lead to liver scarring and liver failure (cirrhosis) in adulthood, as well as liver cancer.
Hepatitis C symptoms
Most children infected with hepatitis C won’t have symptoms.
Older children and teenagers might have mild symptoms such as tiredness, loss of appetite, nausea and pain in the top right area of their tummies (where the liver is).
Very rarely, children can get a severe hepatitis C infection. They might need to go to hospital.
When to see your doctor about hepatitis C symptoms
You should take your child to the GP if your child:
- develops yellow skin or eyes – this is called jaundice
- has very dark brown urine
- has tummy pain that continues longer than a few days
- comes into contact with a discarded needle.
If your child has any of the above symptoms, or if you think you or your child might have come into contact with the virus, see your GP.
Tests for hepatitis C
If the GP thinks that your child’s symptoms might be caused by hepatitis C, your child will need blood tests to confirm the diagnosis.
People infected by hepatitis C need to keep having blood tests to check on their infection and to help make decisions about treatment. Sometimes they might need an ultrasounds of their livers too.
Treatment for hepatitis C
Many children with hepatitis C get over the infection without any treatment. But some children with hepatitis C can have a chronic infection. This puts them at risk of liver failure and cancer when they’re older.
Special anti-viral medications are now available for chronic hepatitis C. These medications can cure the infection in some people. Health professionals might consider prescribing them for some older children and teenagers, especially when it looks like the child might have liver damage.
Hepatitis C prevention
There is no immunisation for hepatitis C. The best way to prevent your child from getting the virus is to avoid coming into contact with infected blood.
If your child comes into contact with a used needle, use soap and water to wash your child’s skin where the contact happened. Then see your GP. The risk of getting hepatitis C from this kind of contact is very low.
Your child should not share toothbrushes, razors or other items that belong to someone who has hepatitis C, because these things might be contaminated with infected blood.
If your child is sexually active, she should always use condoms to help stop the infection being passed on during sex.
And if your child is travelling to developing countries, he should avoid getting a tattoo or body-piercing.