Approximately 250,000 children in the U.S. are living with an infectious disease called hepatitis C. The board-certified, fellowship-trained pediatric infectious disease specialists with Norton Children’s Infectious Diseases, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, have the skills and training to treat children and teens with hepatitis C.
What Is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is an infectious bloodborne disease that affects the liver. To get the condition, a person must come into contact with the blood or body fluids of a person with hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C causes the liver to become inflamed. This can cause the healthy soft tissues in the liver to harden and scar. If left untreated, the inflammation and scarring can cause:
- Cirrhosis of the liver
- Liver tumors
- Liver failure
How Do Children Get Hepatitis C?
The most common way for a child to get hepatitis C is for the pregnant parent to pass the virus to the child at birth. While it is the most common way for a child to get the condition, it’s rare. A pregnant person with hepatitis C has a 1 in 20 chance of passing the condition to their child. About 25% of children rid themselves of the virus without treatment by age 3.
Older children and teens can contract hepatitis C through:
- Injection drug use and/or sharing needles
- Receiving infected blood through a needle stick in a health care setting
- Sharing items such as razors
- Tattoo or body piercing done with unsanitary tools
- Unprotected sexual contact
Hepatitis C isn’t contracted by casual contact such as kissing, hugging, sneezing, coughing, eating or drinking after someone with the virus. There currently isn’t a vaccine available to prevent hepatitis C infection.
Hepatitis C Types
There are six types of hepatitis C genotypes. In the United States, genotypes 1, 2 and 3 are the most common. Genotype 1 makes up the majority of U.S. cases. Additionally, there are two common forms of the condition:
- Acute hepatitis C: This is when the condition suddenly appears. Children with this kind rarely show symptoms.
- Chronic hepatitis C: This is when hepatitis C lasts for six months or longer after a child is diagnosed with the condition. Chronic hepatitis C can lead to symptoms and complications, including liver disease, liver failure and the need for a liver transplant.
Hepatitis C Symptoms
Hepatitis C can show little or no symptoms in children. However, as children with the condition age, the virus can cause damage to the liver. As this damage happens, symptoms can appear, including:
- Dark urine
- Itchy skin
- Lethargy (tiredness)
- Loss of appetite
- Sore muscles
- Stomach issues such as pain and diarrhea
- Stools that are light in color
- Yellowing of the skin (jaundice)
Hepatitis C Treatment
Treatment for hepatitis C depends on the genotype a child is carrying and whether it is acute or chronic. The pediatric infectious disease specialists with Norton Children’s Infectious Diseases will create a care plan unique to the child and their hepatitis C. Treatments can include monitoring for change as well as antiviral medications.