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Hepatitis is often thought of as an adult disease; however, children can suffer from hepatitis, too. Hepatitis is the word medical professionals use to describe inflammation and injury to the liver. In adults, hepatitis is often caused by risky sexual behavior or intravenous drug use, which spread certain hepatitis causing viruses. Inflammation of the liver, or hepatitis, can also be caused by medications, autoimmune diseases and infections. Children are therefore also vulnerable to hepatitis. By far, the most common cause of hepatitis in children is a virus. The most common viruses include:

  • Hepatitis viruses (including A, B, C, D, E, and G)
  • Epstein Barr virus (EBV)
  • Enteroviruses
  • Cytomegalovirus (CMV)

Blood transfusions used to be a common way to contract Hepatitis B and C, but now blood is routinely screened to reduce the risk of infection.

You may not always be able to tell if your child has hepatitis by the symptoms he or she is experiencing, as many of them mimic symptoms of other diseases as well. Symptoms of hepatitis include:

  • Flu-like symptoms (fever, muscle, and joint pain)
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • Dark urine
  • Light colored stools

If you are concerned that your child has hepatitis, you should see your pediatrician right away. There are many other causes of these symptoms, so only a doctor can determine if your child is at risk. The doctor may order blood tests to look at your child’s liver enzymes, how well the liver is functioning, and other tests to detect the presence of a virus.

Treatment for hepatitis depends on the underlying cause and the severity of the disease. Uncomplicated cases of viral hepatitis will go away on their own with rest and frequent blood tests to monitor liver enzyme levels. More serious cases may require hospitalization and drug therapy. Severe cases of hepatitis can lead to liver failure, and sometimes a liver transplant is required.

So how do you keep your child safe? Be sure to follow your doctor’s recommendations about vaccinations as your child can be protected against both Hepatitis A and B with a few simple shots. As for other viruses that cause hepatitis, there are no vaccines available, but teaching your child proper hand washing can go a long way in preventing the spread of diseases in general.

Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, February 2019

Takeaways

  • Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that can result in liver damage.
  • The most common cause of hepatitis in children is a virus.
  • Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, and jaundice.
  • Serious cases can require a hospital stay and if untreated, may lead to liver failure.

References

  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Hepatitis A.
  2. Oxford Journals. Viral Hepatits in Children: Unique Features and Opportunities.

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