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What is hepatitis?

Hepatitis is the inflammation of the liver and can result in liver cell damage and destruction.

What causes hepatitis?

Hepatitis in children has many different origins or causes. A child may contract hepatitis from exposure to a viral source. The following is a list of some of the viruses associated with hepatitis:

The following is a list of some of the diseases that may cause chronic hepatitis in children:

Types of hepatitis viruses:

There are six main types of the hepatitis virus that have been identified, including hepatitis A, B, C, D, E, and G.

Hepatitis A - This type of hepatitis is usually spread by fecal-oral contact, or fecal-infected food and water, and may also be spread by blood-borne infection (which is rare). The following is a list of modes of transmission for hepatitis A:

A vaccine for hepatitis A has been developed and is now available. Because the vaccine is not given routinely, please consult your physician if you have questions about its use. The vaccine is recommended for the following children:

The vaccine is not recommended for children under 2 years of age.

Hepatitis B - Hepatitis B has a wide range of clinical presentations. It can be mild, without symptoms, or it may cause chronic hepatitis. In some cases, when infants and young children acquire hepatitis B, they are at high risk for chronic liver disease and liver failure. Transmission of hepatitis B virus occurs through blood and body fluid exposure such as blood, semen, vaginal secretions, or saliva. Infants may also develop the disease if they are born to a mother who has the virus. Infected children often spread the virus to other children if there is frequent contact (i.e., household contact) or a child has many scrapes or cuts. The following describes persons who are at risk for developing hepatitis B:

A vaccine for Hepatitis B does exist and is now widely used for routine childhood immunization. Children currently receive the first vaccine between birth and 2 months, the second vaccine at 1 to 4 months and the third vaccine at 6 to 18 months. The vaccine is generally required for all children born on or after January 1, 1992, before they enter school. The vaccine is available for older children who may have not been immunized before 1992 and is recommended before age 11 or 12.

Hepatitis C - The symptoms of hepatitis C are usually mild and gradual. Children often show no symptoms at all. Transmission of hepatitis C occurs primarily from contact with infected blood, but can also occur from sexual contact or from an infected mother to her baby. Although hepatitis C has milder symptoms initially, it leads to chronic liver disease in a majority of people who are infected. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hepatitis C is the leading indication for liver transplantation in adults. With some cases of hepatitis C, no mode of transmission can be identified. The following describes persons who may be at risk for contracting hepatitis C:

There is no vaccine for hepatitis C. Persons who are at risk should be checked regularly for hepatitis C. Persons who have hepatitis C should be monitored closely for signs of chronic hepatitis and liver failure.

Hepatitis D - This form of hepatitis can only occur in the presence of hepatitis B. If an individual has hepatitis B and does not show symptoms or shows very mild symptoms, infection with D can put that person at risk for liver failure that progresses rapidly. Hepatitis D can occur at the same time as the initial infection with B, or it may show up much later. Transmission of hepatitis D occurs the same way as hepatitis B, except the transmission from mother to baby is less common. Hepatitis D is rare in children born in the US due to the common use of hepatitis B vaccine in infancy.

Hepatitis E - This form of hepatitis is similar to hepatitis A. Transmission occurs through fecal-oral contamination. It is less common in children than hepatitis A. Hepatitis E is most common in poorly developed countries and rarely seen in the United States. There is no vaccine for hepatitis E at this time.

Hepatitis G - This is the newest strain of hepatitis and very little is known about it. Transmission is believed to occur through blood and is most commonly seen in IV drug users, individuals with clotting disorders such as hemophilia, and individuals who require hemodialysis for renal failure. Often hepatitis G shows no clinical symptoms.

How often does hepatitis occur?

According to the CDC, in the US, each year:

Why is hepatitis a concern?

Hepatitis is a concern because it often originates from a virus and is communicable (can be spread from your child to others). In some cases, liver failure or death can occur. However, not everyone who is infected will experience symptoms.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis?

The following are the most common symptoms for hepatitis. However, each child may experience symptoms differently and some children may experience no symptoms at all.

Symptoms of acute (abrupt onset) hepatitis may include the following:

Later symptoms include dark-colored urine and jaundice (yellowing of the skin, and eyes). The symptoms of hepatitis may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.

How is hepatitis diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and examination by your physician, diagnostic procedures and other tests to determine the extent of the disease may include the following:

Treatment for hepatitis:

Specific treatment for hepatitis will be determined by your child's physician based on:

Treatment for hepatitis varies depending on the underlying cause of the disease. The goal of treatment is to stop damage to the liver and alleviate symptoms. Treatment may include one, or more, of the following:

Preventing the spread of viral hepatitis:

Proper hygiene is the key to preventing the spread of many diseases, including hepatitis. Other preventative measures include:

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