Hepatitis C causes
Hepatitis C is caused by the hepatitis C virus. If you get infected with the virus, it 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.
If women have hepatitis B, they can pass it on their babies during pregnancy, around the time of birth. This is the most common way that children get hepatitis C in Australia.
You can also get hepatitis C if you:
- share needles during drug use
- come into accidental contact with a discarded needle
- get a tattoo or body-piercing with a dirty needle
- share toothbrushes or razors
- have sex without using condoms.
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 don’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 stomach, where the liver is.
Medical help: when to get it for children with hepatitis C
You should take your child to the GP if your child has:
- signs of jaundice, including yellowish skin or eyes
- very dark brown urine
- stomach pain that continues for longer than a few days
- come 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.
Your GP might refer you to a specialist with experience in treating hepatitis C.
You know your child best. If your child seems unwell, trust your instincts and seek medical attention.
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 extra blood tests to check on their infection and to help their doctors make treatment decisions. Sometimes they might need an ultrasound of their liver.
Treatment for hepatitis C
Some children will recover from the virus within weeks or months. They don’t need treatment.
Other children might develop chronic hepatitis C and will live with the virus in the long term. This can put them at risk of liver scarring, liver failure and liver cancer in the future.
This is why it’s important for children with chronic hepatitis B to have checks on their livers and general health every 6-12 months.
There are some effective and safe anti-viral medicines for chronic hepatitis C. Health professionals might prescribe them for older children and teenagers, especially children with liver damage.
There is no immunisation for hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C prevention during pregnancy and breastfeeding
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.
Hepatitis C prevention measures for all children and teenagers
If your child is accidentally cut or scratched with a used needle, use soap and water to wash your child’s skin where the contact happened. Then see your GP. Your GP might do some blood tests.
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.
Hepatitis C prevention measures for teenagers
If your teenage child is sexually active, they can reduce their risk of getting hepatitis C by using condoms during vaginal or anal sex. You can 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 your child wants to get a tattoo or body-piercing, you can help them 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.