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Children can get hepatitis and sometimes it can be fatal. How do the different hepatitis viruses affect children? If children get hepatitis, can they be treated? How do we protect them against hepatitis?
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The outbreak of a mystery hepatitis in youngsters was first detected on 5 April 2022. Cases were found in the UK, Europe and the USA. A World Health Organisation (WHO) update on 13 July reported there is now more than 1,010 probable cases of this unexplained severe acute hepatitis, or liver inflammation.
So far, 22 children have died and some required life-saving liver transplants. Almost half of the probable cases have been reported in Europe, and close to one-third in the Americas. According to the WHO, case numbers may be higher due to limited surveillance in some regions.
The most commonly reported symptoms were nausea or vomiting, jaundice, general weakness and abdominal pain.
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) said in May that no cases had been identified in Australia. Parents are advised to consult their doctors if they have any concerns.
Hepatitis C – inflammation of the liver caused by the hepatitis C virus – is transmitted only from blood to bloodstream contact. In Australia, hepatitis C in children is rare.
A pregnant person with hepatitis C may pass the virus to their infants via the placenta during gestation, or via blood-to-blood contact during birth, but it is uncommon, occurring only in 5 out of 100 cases.
A person with hepatitis C may safely breast-feed their infants so long as their nipples are not cracked or bleeding.
Children may get hepatitis C through sharing personal items such as toothbrushes or clippers with a person who has hepatitis C. Any item that may get blood on it can be a risk.
There is no vaccination to protect people against hepatitis C.
New highly effective hepatitis C treatments are safe for children over three years old. Children with hepatitis C can be prescribed the new drugs by a paediatrician experienced in treating hepatitis C.
Hepatitis B is inflammation of the liver caused by the hepatitis b virus. Most children who have hepatitis B got it during the birthing process.
In Australia all newborns are offered hepatitis B vaccinations. The first of four free vaccination shots is usually given within a week of birth, preferably within the first 24 hours. The rest are given at 2, 4 and 6 months, often in combination with other vaccinations. If a pregnant person has hepatitis B, the baby will receive an injection of antibodies within 12 hours of birth. This is in addition to the routine vaccine shots and will significantly reduce the chance of transmission to the newborn baby.
People with hepatitis B can safely breastfeed their infants unless their nipples are cracked or bleeding.
Hepatitis B is spread by blood to blood contact and sexual fluids. Children who are not vaccinated may become infected through sharing personal items with someone who has hepatitis B, such as toothbrushes, clippers and any item which may get blood on it. They can also get it through blood exposure during play or fighting with other children.
Some people living with hepatitis B will need to take medication. This is mostly given to adults. Children are not usually treated however if there is a medical need to treat children, either a course of injections or oral medication may be given under the supervision of your child’s specialist.
Children with hepatitis B usually don't need treatment, but they do need regular monitoring every 6 to 12 months depending on medical advice.
Hepatitis A is liver inflammation caused by the hepatitis A virus. Hepatitis A is found in the faeces of people with the infection. It is transmitted when children, or adults, come into contact with contaminated objects, food or water. Hepatitis A is not common in Australia.
Hepatitis A has a long incubation and symptoms usually don't appear until four weeks after initial infection. Symptoms include tiredness, fever, nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhoea and jaundice. Many children with hepatitis A, especially young children, don't have many symptoms. This means it is easy for the virus to transmit between children.
Children with hepatitis A will recover. Recovery time varies from weeks up to months with some taking as long as six months for full recovery. There is no cure for hepatitis A but people who had hepatitis A before will develop immunity to the virus.
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