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Hepatitis C

What is Hepatitis C and why should I be concerned about it?

Hepatitis C virus is a virus that can cause liver disease. Although most people recover from the initial phase of HCV infection, up to 80% of them may develop evidence of chronic liver infection that may lead to much more serious liver problems and possibly death. Hepatitis C virus is the cause of approximately 10,000 deaths each year in the United States.

Symptoms of HCV

Infection with HCV usually begins as nothing more than a mild flulike illness (although many babies and children show no symptoms). Some people may experience one or more of the following:

  • Flulike symptoms (body aches, fever, diarrhea, or nausea)
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Lack of appetite or weight loss
  • Dark yellow urine
  • Light, clay-colored bowel movements
  • Stomach pain, especially in the upper right side of the abdomen
  • Jaundice (a yellowing of the eyes and skin)

Infants with HCV infection also may have an enlarged liver or spleen, grow more slowly, or fail to gain weight.

If your child has some of the symptoms of HCV infection, contact your pediatrician. Be sure to tell your pediatrician if your child has been exposed to anyone with HCV. To diagnose HCV infection, your pediatrician will examine your child and test your child's blood for the virus.

How HCV is Spread

Hepatitis C virus cannot be spread by touching, hugging, or kissing. Therefore, children with HCV infection can participate in all normal childhood activities and should not be excluded from child care centers or schools. However, because it can be spread through contact with blood, parents of children with HCV infection should make sure household items such as toothbrushes, razors, nail clippers, or other items that may contain small amounts of blood, are not shared.

Hepatitis C virus also can be spread through sexual contact. Infected teens and young adults should be strongly advised to avoid having sex. If they are going to have sex, they need to use latex condoms to prevent the spread of HCV. Drinking alcohol also should be avoided by anyone with HCV infection because alcohol can speed up liver damage.

Long-Term Effects of HCV Infection

In some children, HCV infection can lead to persistent liver disease in the form of cirrhosis or scarring of the liver. Cirrhosis occurs when the liver cells die and are replaced by scar tissue and fat. The liver eventually stops working and can no longer remove wastes from the body. Infants who develop cirrhosis of the liver because of chronic HCV infection may require a liver transplant to survive. Children infected with HCV also are at risk for developing other serious liver diseases, including liver cancer.

Hopes for a Cure

While at the present time there is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C, hope for treatment is on the horizon. Recent medical advances may result in the testing of several new drugs for HCV infection within the next few years.

Last Updated
Hepatitis C (Copyright © 2003 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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