5 Kinds Of Hepatitis In Children And Their Prevention

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400 Million. That is the number of people affected by the hepatitis virus globally.

That’s not all. Here’s another fact: 95% of people do not know that they have hepatitis (1). It gets worse; 80% of the children who get infected by the virus during the first year and 30% – 40% kids who get it before they turn six years develop a chronic condition.

The good news is that some forms of hepatitis can be cured completely and most can be prevented. MomJunction tells you about the causes, symptoms and treatment options for hepatitis in children. Read on till the end to know how you can prevent the little one from getting infected.

What Is Hepatitis?

Hepatitis is the inflammation of the liver cells. It might start as a mild infection in kids and last less than six months in 90% cases (2). In some, it can become a chronic condition. With a weaker immune system compared to the adults, children are vulnerable to the virus. Each year around six million people get infected with the virus. Your kids need not be a part of that statistic.

Keep reading to know how.

Types Of Hepatitis In Children

There are five types of hepatitis viruses: A, B, C, D and E. While hepatitis D and E are rare, adults and children can get infected with hepatitis A, B or C. Children can get affected, regardless of their age.

Hepatitis A In Children:

A is the most common hepatitis virus in children and spreads through food, water or objects contaminated by the virus. Also called infectious hepatitis, hepatitis A is usually found in stool and can thrive in it for months. A child can get infected with the virus when he consumes food or water contaminated by infected stool or when he or she touches objects that have been infected by the virus.

The virus thrives in unhygienic conditions and spreads quickly in crowded areas. The infection caused by hepatitis A virus (HAV) is usually mild, which makes detecting it that much hard. However, the infection lasts less than six months and does not result in a chronic condition.

1. What causes hepatitis A?

Unsanitary conditions is the most common cause for the spread of HAV. Your child can get infected when he or she:

  • Eats food prepared by someone who is unhygienic (does not wash hands properly before preparing meals).
  • Drinks water or milk contaminated by feces containing the virus.
  • Eats foods (especially shellfish) contaminated by infected feces.
  • Travels to countries where the infection is prevalent, without getting vaccinated.
  • Blood transfusion (although rare).

You can prevent hepatitis A with a vaccine.

[ Read: Causes Of Viral Infection In Children ]

2. How to prevent hepatitis A?

All children aged over one year should get the vaccination, and it’s important to stick to the hepatitis A vaccine schedule to prevent any infection. The first dose of the vaccine starts working four weeks from the day it is taken. Make sure you also get the six-month and the 12-month booster doses for long-term protection.

Additional tips to prevent hepatitis A infections in children:

  • Avoid outside food, especially food from street vendors and carts. Home cooked food is so much better and can be tasty too!
  • Maintain sanitary conditions at home.
  • Teach hygiene habits to kids: wash hands before touching food, after touching objects outside such as a slide in the park and at school, visiting places like hospitals, etc.
  • Avoid giving them raw or semi-cooked foods.
  • Avoid dairy products.
  • If you do not get bottled water, boil the water before giving it to the kid.

3. Symptoms of hepatitis A:

If the child gets infected in spite of the precautions, you might notice these signs and symptoms of hepatitis A:

  • Loss of appetite.
  • Tiredness or a general feeling of being unwell.
  • Stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting.
  • Mild fever.
  • Urine is dark in color, while stool turns a shade lighter.
  • Signs of jaundice: yellowness in eyes and nails.
  • Symptoms of cold, sore throat and cough, although rare.

[ Read: Remedies For Jaundice In Children ]

The doctor may recommend a blood test to confirm the diagnosis. The infection lasts for a few months until the virus leaves the body on its own. There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A, but there are supportive medications and remedies that help in fighting the infection.

Hepatitis B In Children:

Hepatitis B or serum hepatitis is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). The virus is transmitted from one person to another via blood transfer or transfusion, saliva, semen, urine and even tears. Unlike hepatitis A, hepatitis B can lead to a chronic liver infection, affecting the child’s health in the long run.

1. What causes hepatitis B?

One or more of these actions can cause hepatitis B in kids:

  • The virus passes from the mother to the newborn baby; this is a common occurrence in high endemic areas.
  • When a child is exposed to serum such as blood or saliva of an infected child or person. For example, your kids can get infected when an infected child bites or scratches them.
  • They can also contract the virus by sharing food or drink with someone who has the infection.
  • Exposure to infected blood.
  • Sharing toiletries such as toothbrushes can also transmit the infection from one kid to another.
  • In teenagers, multiple sex partners, sharing needles for drugs or getting a tattoo at a parlor that does not sterilize the needles, etc., can lead to hepatitis B.

2. How to prevent hepatitis B?

  • There is a hepatitis B vaccine for children that is 95% effective, and it can protect your child from the virus. Ensure that your child is vaccinated – follow the vaccination schedule, which could include three to four shots at different intervals. The vaccine can offer protection for up to 20 years.
  • Tell your child not to share any personal items such as toothbrushes, spoons and drinking glasses that can transfer saliva from the infected person to the kid.
  • Tell them not to touch blood if someone gets a cut or abrasion (kids can be curious that way!).
  • Talk to your teenager about the risks of getting hepatitis B due to multiple sex partners, unsafe tattoos, and body piercing.

If you think that your child is infected, get a blood test immediately. The child should be vaccinated within two weeks from the day when he contracted the virus. The sooner you get the vaccine, the safer it is for the child.

3. Symptoms and diagnosis of hepatitis B:

Watch out for these hepatitis B symptoms in children, before taking them to a doctor.

  • Yellowness of eyes, nails, and urine (jaundice)
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Nausea, vomiting and stomach pain

Diagnosis may include blood tests, followed by vaccination if your child hasn’t been vaccinated. There is no treatment for hepatitis B, which makes it all the more dangerous. In rare cases, the infection can lead to liver failure, cirrhosis or even liver cancer. The silver lining here is that hepatitis B can be prevented by being careful.

[ Read: What Causes Vomiting In Kids ]

Hepatitis C In Children:

Hepatitis C is caused when the child gets attacked by the hepatitis C virus (HCV), which moves through blood. This hepatitis infection is common in adults and not kids. However, newborns with infected mothers may contract the virus. Hepatitis C infects up to 5.8% children in developing countries in Asia, the Amazon Basin and Sub-Saharan Africa (3). In the US, anywhere between 26,000 and 43,000 (0.05%-0.36%), kids get affected by the virus annually.

1. What causes hepatitis C?

The hepatitis C virus is blood-borne, so your child is likely to get it:

  • If he or she is injected with a needle used by an infected person.
  • When medical equipment is reused without being sterilized.
  • Through transfusion of infected blood.

Hepatitis C does not spread through air, touch or breast milk. In rare cases, the infection can pass from the mother to the newborn.

2. Symptoms and diagnosis of hepatitis C:

The symptoms are not visible easily, at least during the initial stages of the disease. After the incubation period of two to six weeks, your child may show the following signs:

  • Mild fever
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Jaundice
  • Dark urine
  • Gray-colored stool
  • Vomiting and abdominal pain
  • Joint pain
  • Loss of appetite

Around 55-80% people who are infected with the HCV can develop a chronic liver infection.

In addition to checking for the symptoms, the doctor may also recommend a serological test to check for anti-HCV antibodies and a nucleic test to check if the infection is chronic. If detected early, treatment can fight the infection and cure the patient. In 15-45% cases, the infection leaves the body after a couple of weeks or so, and no treatment is needed (4).

Otherwise, the doctor will recommend a treatment program that may include administering anti-viral medication that eliminates the HCV from the body. In the case of severe liver damage, a liver transplant may be necessary. Even then, the patient would need anti-viral medications to protect the new liver from the virus.

Hepatitis D: Its Partnership With HBV:

Hepatitis D attacks the body simultaneously with the HBV. Hep D is an RNA virus that can combine with HBV and attack as a super virus, but it does not act alone. The virus becomes stronger in the presence of the HBV and warrants an anti-viral treatment for the patient.

There is no known cure for acute or chronic HDV infection, but compared to hepatitis A, B, and C, Hepatitis D is rare in children. If infected, however, your child can show symptoms similar to symptoms those of hepatitis B:

  • Dark urine
  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Jaundice
  • Loss of appetite

Children who have developed a chronic hepatitis B infection are at a risk of contracting HDV. The virus is contagious and spreads through contact, via body fluids. The disease may be diagnosed through a blood test to check for anti-HDV antibodies. If exposed, the doctor may recommend treatment using a medication known as interferon, as anti-viral treatments aren’t very effective against the virus.

Getting your child vaccinated against hepatitis B is the only way to prevent the hepatitis D infection.

[ Read: Stomach Pain In Kids ]

Hepatitis E

Hepatitis E is uncommon in countries like the US but prevalent in south and east Asia. The virus spreads through the oral-fecal route, especially contaminated food and water. Around 20 million people around the world are affected by hepatitis E virus (5), and over 55,000 people die from the illness each year. In most cases, hepatitis E is self-limiting and rarely develops into a chronic condition.

1. Symptoms and treatment of hepatitis E

  • Mild fever, followed by loss of appetite and abdominal pain.
  • Some may get skin rashes and joint pains.
  • Jaundice.
  • The liver might become tender and slightly enlarged.

If these symptoms last between one and six weeks, they may indicate the presence of the virus. Diagnosing hepatitis E is not easy as the symptoms are similar to those of other hepatitis viruses. Tests may be done to detect the presence of specific IgM antibodies in the patient’s blood. Doctors may suspect HEV infection in case of a pandemic or if the patient is from an area where the virus is thriving.

Just like hepatitis C and D, hepatitis E does not have any specific treatment. The disease is usually self-limiting and does not usually need hospitalization. Treating chronic cases of hepatitis E may require the use of anti-viral drugs like ribavirin, and in some cases, the doctor may prescribe interferon.

2. How to prevent hepatitis E?

  • A hepatitis E vaccine has been invented but is currently available only in China.
  • To prevent the infection, make sure that children drink only clean water and food that you prepare hygienically at home.
  • Avoid eating street food in areas where the infection is prevalent.
  • Also avoid unpeeled and uncooked foods such as raw shellfish, fruits, and vegetables that you rinse in water.

How To Prevent Hepatitis Infections?

When it comes to hepatitis infections, prevention is always better than cure. Three out of the five hepatitis viruses have vaccines, so make use of them to avert hepatitis in childhood and keep them safe. For the other two which do not have a vaccine, take preventive measures to keep the virus at bay. To prevent transmission of the hepatitis virus:

  • Make sure that the kid washes his hands regularly, especially after using the toilet. Make them wash the hands for at least 20 seconds before touching their food or anything else to prevent the spreading of the virus.
  • Avoid sharing towels, toothbrushes, and other personal items that allow the virus to spread.
  • Clean the toilet, flush handle, bathroom door handles, etc., used by the child who is infected. This will prevent the infection from spreading to the other children.
  • Don’t let them consume water or food without checking on the purity and hygiene of the place where they are made.
  • Discourage kids from putting objects in their mouth.
  • Wash dishes in hot water, use soap to clean them.

Do not send the child to school and keep him away from other children for a week after the symptoms surface.

[ Read: Treatment For Polio In Children ]

Home Care For Hepatitis In Children:

Vaccinations and maintaining a clean environment at home is critical to keep hepatitis infections at bay. If the child is infected and undergoing treatment, making a few lifestyle changes and trying some herbal home remedies can help alleviate the symptoms of hepatitis, if not cure it.

All the hepatitis viruses affect the liver, which is why most of the home care tips and remedies that we mention here are to help you minimize the symptoms and keep the liver healthy and functional.

Lifestyle tips for hepatitis patients

Treating hepatitis can be difficult without the right kind of lifestyle that helps the child stay healthy and energetic. So, here is what you should remember.

  • Don’t let your child exert too much. Let them take it slow and easy, especially when they are tired.
  • Cut down the number of activities that the child indulges in to reduce the fatigue.
  • Give the child well-cooked healthy meals rich in protein (most doctors recommend it).
  • Don’t force-feed the child as he or she is likely to feel nauseated and may not have the appetite for it. Keep the meals smaller in general. Although, you can give them a slightly heavy meal during the day and a lighter meal later.
  • Follow a healthy diet with lots of vegetables and fruits, but make sure they are cleaned properly and cooked before consumption.
  • Avoid dehydration by giving the child lots of water to drink. This is especially important when the child has hepatitis B and vomiting as a symptom.
  • Keep the room cool, properly ventilated to reduce the itching. Also, make the child wear loose clothing. Use antihistamines if needed or as recommended by the doctor.

Herbal remedies for hepatitis infections in kids:

People affected by the hepatitis viruses have to undergo treatment if any. However, to alleviate the hepatitis symptoms in children and the side-effects of the medications that your child takes as a part of the treatment, you can try these herbal remedies. Please understand that these remedies do not cure the infection or treat it.

1. Garlic

Garlic’s antiviral and antibacterial properties can help limit the activity of the infection-causing virus. When taken in moderate quantities, along with the treatment recommended by the doctor, garlic can eliminate the virus in cases of acute hepatitis.

  • Use a clove or two of garlic in the food that you cook every day.
  • If your child is old enough and does not mind chewing on raw garlic cloves, give one or two every morning.

Garlic also has anti-oxidant properties and helps improve the liver’s ability to stabilize and fight the carcinogens.

[ Read: Is Garlic Healthy For Kids ]

2. Licorice root

Licorice root is one of the most used herbs for treating liver related disorders. The root has a component called glycyrrhizin, which has the potential for reducing the long-term effects of hepatitis C (6). However, licorice can interact with certain medications and should not be taken before consulting the doctor. The herb has strong anti-viral properties and can be used to make herbal tea or as a flavoring agent in food.

3. Artichokes

Globe artichokes have been used as folk medicine for a healthy liver for a long time now. Artichokes have an antioxidant called silymarin, which boosts liver health and cell regeneration, thus helping the hepatitis patients get better sooner. The thistle also has an antioxidant called cynarin, which helps in the production of bile to fight off the infections caused by the hepatitis viruses.

  • Wash the artichoke leaves and boil them in a bowl of water.
  • Drain the liquid and give it to the kid thrice a day, before a meal.

4. Turmeric

Turmeric has antioxidant, antiviral and antibacterial properties that can support in fighting the infection causing the virus. Adding a pinch or two of turmeric powder to the food you prepare every day can help in strengthening the immune system and improving the production of bile.

  • Mix half-a-teaspoon of turmeric in a glass of warm milk and give it to the child every night before bedtime.
  • Adding turmeric to the foods that you cook every day can help keep the cholesterol in check and promote liver health.

5. Milk thistle

Milk thistle is another common herb that is used for treating liver related ailments. The herb contains silymarin and flavonoids that protect the liver from damage by viruses and toxins in the body.

  • You can give a milk thistle supplement to the child every day, but do consult the doctor before you do that.
  • You can roast the roots or boil them after you remove the prickles. You can also add the herb to a stew.

The seeds of milk thistle are known to be most effective in treating hepatitis, but the rest of the plant can be consumed as well.

6. Olive leaf

The olive leaf has anti-viral properties that can help fight the hepatitis viruses. The leaf is also antibacterial in nature and is known for treating hepatitis infections. You can find olive leaf extract in capsules. However, consult your doctor before you give your children any such supplements.

[ Read: Benefits Of Olive Oil For Kids ]

7. Burdock

Burdock root, which you can also eat as a vegetable, has antioxidant properties and can be used to cleanse the liver of any toxins, allowing the organ to purify the blood better. Burdock can be cooked as a vegetable and eaten regularly. You can roast or steam the root vegetable and cook it Asian style.

8. Beets

Beets are often used in Ayurvedic medicine for improving liver cell regeneration. They are effective in treating patients with hepatitis A infection. You can cook the root vegetable or eat it raw in salads. Another easy way to make your child get the goodness of beets is to juice it.

Hepatitis can be a dangerous infection when left undetected and untreated. The liver is a crucial part of the body, and any damage to it can affect the health and quality of life of the child. Take precautions as necessary and keep the infection away. Most importantly, get your child vaccinated – follow the hepatitis vaccination schedule to protect the child in the long run.

Have tips on how to deal with hepatitis infections in children? Tell us about them here.

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Sagari Gongala

Sagari is a math graduate and studied counseling psychology in postgraduate college, which she uses to understand people better. This skill also helps her write better articles about kids and their behavior. She is meticulous in her research and gives you information that could be the ultimate help you’ll need in times of need. An animal lover, vegan, and coffee addict, Sagari puts her mind and soul into whatever she does. During her free time, you'll find her either rescuing a sick/injured animal with a friend, or glued to her couch watching Sons Of Anarchy on Netflix.
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