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.
How hepatitis C spreads
Hepatitis C spreads through blood-to-blood contact – that is, when people come into contact with the blood of someone who has the virus.
The most common way that children get hepatitis C in Australia is from mothers who pass the virus on to their babies during pregnancy or at birth.
You can also get hepatitis C if you:
- share needles during drug use
- get a tattoo or body-piercing with a dirty needle
- share toothbrushes or razors
- have sex without using condoms.
There’s also a very small risk of hepatitis C infection from accidental contact with a discarded needle.
Hepatitis C is rare in children. It’s most common among adults who inject drugs and share contaminated needles.
Hepatitis C symptoms
Most children infected with hepatitis C won’t have symptoms.
Older children and teenagers might have mild symptoms like tiredness, loss of appetite, nausea and pain in the top right area of their stomachs, where the liver is.
Very rarely, children can get a severe hepatitis C infection. They’ll need to spend some time in hospital.
Does your child need to see a doctor about hepatitis C?
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 stomach pain that continues longer than a few days
- comes into contact with a discarded needle.
You should also speak to your GP if you think you might have been exposed to hepatitis C during your pregnancy.
Tests for hepatitis C
If the GP thinks that your child’s symptoms might be caused by hepatitis C or that your child might have been exposed to hepatitis C, your child will need blood tests to confirm the diagnosis.
People infected by hepatitis C might need additional blood tests to check on their infection and to help their doctors make treatment decisions. Sometimes they might need ultrasounds of their livers too.
Treatment for hepatitis C
Some children with hepatitis C get over the infection without any treatment. This could take weeks or months. But most children with hepatitis C go on to have chronic hepatitis C. This puts them at risk of liver scarring, liver failure (cirrhosis) and liver cancer when they’re older.
Effective and safe anti-viral medications are now available to treat chronic hepatitis C in adults. These medications can cure the infection in most people. Health professionals might consider prescribing them for some older children.
Your GP might refer you to a specialist with experience in treating hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C prevention
There is no immunisation for hepatitis C.
If you have hepatitis C and are thinking about pregnancy, you should discuss treatment options with your GP. Women who have hepatitis C can safely breastfeed unless their nipples are cracked or bleeding.
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.
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 teenage child is sexually active, he can reduce the risk of getting hepatitis C by using condoms during vaginal or anal sex. You can help reduce your child’s risk by making sure your child has:
- accurate information about safe sexual practices
- access to condoms
- access to reliable advice about sexuality and sexual health from a GP or other health professional, if he doesn’t feel comfortable talking to you.
If your child wants to get a tattoo or body-piercing, you can help her find a safe and professional tattooist or piercer.
if you’re concerned that your child is using intravenous drugs, you could start by talking to your GP, your child’s school counsellor or other school staff for resources and support options.