Neonatal Hepatitis C Symptoms & Causes

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In-Depth

At Children’s Hospital Boston, we understand that you may have a lot of questions when your child is diagnosed with neonatal hepatitis C, such as:

•           What exactly is it?
•           How did he get it?
•           What are potential complications in my child’s case?
•           What are our treatment options?
•           How will it affect my child long term?

We’ve tried to provide some answers to those questions here, and when you meet with our experts, we can explain your child’s condition and treatment options fully.

Background
A baby may contract a hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection in the uterus if the mother has hepatitis C and passes it through her bloodstream to the baby.

  • The developing fetus is especially vulnerable to illness because its immune system is not yet strong enough to permanently fight off infection.

Since a baby in utero cannot completely get rid of an infection, HCV remains in the body, and can lead to a hepatitis C infection, which may damage your baby’s liver and cause lifelong health problems.

Causes

A pregnant woman who has hepatitis C can pass it on to her unborn child.

How is hepatitis C spread?
HCV can be transmitted through contaminated blood, and is often passed on through shared needles.

  • HCV can also be spread from a pregnant mother to her fetus through the bloodstream.

What is the likelihood that my baby will get hepatitis C?
If you have hepatitis C, there is a slightly higher than 5 percent chance that your baby will also be infected.

Symptoms
 

Most babies born with hepatitis C never develop symptoms, but the virus can still be causing internal damage to the liver.

If your child has symptoms, they may include the following:

  • jaundice
  • tenderness
  • fever
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea and vomiting

Long-term outlook

If your baby develops chronic hepatitis C, she may eventually require a course of antiviral medications or even a liver transplant. Children born with hepatitis C are also at greater risk for liver cancer and cirrhosis (scarring) later in life.

Questions to ask your doctor

If you’re worried about hepatitis C or are already infected, you may have many questions about how it can affect your baby.

You may find it helpful to jot down questions as they arise—that way, when you talk to your doctor, you can be sure that all of your concerns are addressed.

Here are some questions to get you started:

  • I’m planning to have a baby. Should I get tested for hepatitis C?
  • How can I reduce my exposure to the hepatitis C virus?
  • Is there any way to prevent passing hepatitis C on to my baby?
  • What steps can we take if my baby does get infected?
  • What’s the long-term outlook for a baby born with hepatitis C?

Prevention

There is no cure for hepatitis C, so it’s best to avoid infection.

Because hepatitis C is most often spread through contact with contaminated blood in needles shared among IV drug users, it’s important to never share needles. Of course, it’s best to stop using drugs altogether; your doctor can help you find treatment if you are having problems with substance abuse.

FAQ

Q: What is hepatitis C?
A: Hepatitis C is a disease of the liver that is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV).

Q: Why is neonatal hepatitis C a problem?
A: HCV can be spread from a pregnant mother to her fetus through the bloodstream.

  • If your baby is infected, she may have lifelong liver problems, such as scarring of the liver and liver cancer.

Q: What are the chances my baby will be born with neonatal hepatitis C?
A:
Slightly greater than 5 percent of babies born to infected mothers contract the virus.

Q: How can neonatal hepatitis C be prevented?
A: There is no cure for hepatitis C, so it’s best to avoid infection.

  • Because hepatitis C is most often spread through contact with contaminated blood in needles shared among IV drug users, it’s important to never share needles. Of course, it’s best to stop using drugs altogether; your doctor can help you find treatment if you are having problems with substance abuse.

Q: How is neonatal hepatitis C diagnosed?
A: A simple blood test can check for the presence of the virus in your or your child’s bloodstream.

Q: What symptoms might my baby have?
A:
Most babies born with hepatitis C never develop symptoms, but the virus can still be causing internal damage to the liver.

If your child has symptoms, they may include the following:

  • jaundice
  • tenderness
  • fever
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea and vomiting

Q: What are our treatment options?
A:
If you have hepatitis C, your doctor will check your baby 4-6 months after birth to test for the presence of the virus.

  • If the test is positive, Children’s physicians will continue to monitor your baby for any worsening of her condition and will treat any symptoms she may develop.

Q: What is my child’s long-term outlook?
A:If your baby develops chronic hepatitis C, she may eventually require a course of antiviral medications or even a liver transplant. Children born with hepatitis C are also at greater risk for liver cancer and cirrhosis (scarring) later in life.

Q: What makes Children’s different?
A: Our physicians are expert, compassionate and committed to focusing on the whole child, not just his condition—that’s one reason we’re frequently ranked as a top pediatric hospital in the United States.

Physicians and researchers in our Division of Infectious Diseases are constantly learning more about how diseases develop and spread as well as how the body uses its defenses to fight back. 

And at Children’s, we consider you and your child integral parts of the care team and not simply recipients of care. You and your care team will work together to customize a plan of care for your child.

We are grateful to have been ranked #1 on U.S. News & World Report's list of the best children's hospitals in the nation for the third year in a row, an honor we could not have achieved without the patients and families who inspire us to do our very best for them. Thanks to you, Boston Children's is a place where we can write the greatest children's stories ever told.”
- Sandra L. Fenwick, President and CEO

Boston Children's Hospital 300 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115 617-355-6000 | 800-355-7944

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