Hepatitis B | Diagnosis & Treatments

How is hepatitis B diagnosed?

A doctor who suspects that a child is infected with HBV may test the child’s blood to see if it contains a portion of the virus called the surface antigen. If the test comes back positive, the doctor may run additional tests for the other portions of the virus that can provide more information.

Children and adults with HBV surface antigen in their blood for more than six months typically undergo periodic tests to monitor their liver function and look for signs of serious liver disease. If such tests show that the virus is starting to damage the child’s liver, doctors may order a biopsy to determine if it is appropriate to start treatment.

The doctor will likely ask about family history of liver disease, in particular liver cancer. Knowing the family’s health history can help predict how the virus will affect the child.

How is hepatitis B treated?

Doctors treat acute and chronic hepatitis B very differently. In prescribing treatment for hepatitis B, doctors aim to disable the virus, reduce the amount of virus in the blood, and prevent liver damage that could lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer.

If a child has acute hepatitis B, doctors will recommend rest, healthy eating, and drinking plenty of fluids. If the infection has lasted more than six months and doctors see signs of liver damage, they may recommend starting treatment with one of a variety of medications.

Should a child with hepatitis B get the hepatitis vaccine?

While the hepatitis B vaccine is not effective in anyone already infected with the virus, any child or adult with hepatitis B should receive the vaccine against hepatitis A in order to prevent additional liver inflammation and injury. There is currently no vaccine for hepatitis C.

What is the long-term impact of chronic hepatitis B?

Children with chronic hepatitis B can lead completely normal lives, attend school, and play sports without any special arrangements, just like any other child.

A child with chronic HBV infection could be infected for life. Over the decades, the virus can cause progressive damage to the liver and lead to such complications as cirrhosis and liver cancer.

When they become older, children with hepatitis B should avoid drinking alcohol, as it can make the disease progress more quickly. Once they become sexually active, they should practice safe sex to protect their partners from infection.