Protecting Your Child from Viral Hepatitis Infection

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. This inflammation is often caused by a virus. Hepatitis can be acute (brief). Or, it can be chronic (long-lasting). The effects of hepatitis can be worse for someone who has another liver disease. You can take steps to protect your child and the rest of the family from viral hepatitis. The most common types of viral hepatitis, and the best way to protect your family from each, are described on this sheet.

Viral hepatitis strains

There are several strains (types) of viral hepatitis. The most common are:

  • Hepatitis A virus (HAV): This virus spreads through contaminated food or water. It can also spread from person to person. Hepatitis A is often passed in daycare, restaurants, and places with poor toilet or sewage facilities. After a mild, flulike illness, it usually doesn’t cause problems in children. In rare cases, though, it can cause a serious infection that leads to liver failure.

  • Hepatitis B virus (HBV): This virus spreads through blood. A baby can get it when the mother passes on the virus during childbirth. The virus can also be passed through contact with infected blood, suchs as by touching an open cut or scrape. HBV can also spread if you use an item that even has a tiny amount of an infected person's blood on it. This includes personal items (such as toothbrushes, nail clippers, razors, or pierced earrings), eating utensils, and tattoo or drug needles. Unprotected sex is another way of passing the virus. Hepatitis B often goes away after a flulike illness. But it can develop into a chronic problem that never goes away, especially in younger children. Chronic hepatitis B can cause cirrhosis (liver scarring) over many years.

  • Hepatitis C virus (HCV): This virus also spreads through blood. It, too, can pass from mother to child during childbirth. Like hepatitis B, the virus can be passed by contact with infected bloor or having unprotected sex. In many cases, hepatitis C develops into a chronic illness and causes cirrhosis years or decades later.

Get your child vaccinatedWoman holding baby on lap. Health care provider is preparing to give baby injection.

The best way to protect your family from hepatitis A and B is with vaccination. (There is no vaccine for hepatitis C at this time.) Vaccines help the body protect itself against infection. Here’s what you need to know about hepatitis vaccination:

  • The hepatitis A vaccine is given to children starting at age 1. It’s especially recommended for people at high risk of being exposed to HAV. Hepatitis A vaccination is done with 2 shots, one about 6 months after the other.

  • The hepatitis B vaccination is often given soon after a child’s birth. It’s required before a child starts school. Hepatitis B vaccination requires 3 shots, a few months apart.

  • Any child with existing liver disease should be vaccinated against hepatitis A and B. Talk to your child’s doctor to learn more.

  • It is a good idea for adults to get hepatitis A and B vaccinations. Talk to your doctor about this.

Tips for preventing hepatitis infection

Viral hepatitis spreads through contact with infected stool or blood. The following tips will help you protect yourself and your family:

  • Adults and children should wash hands often, and always after using the bathroom or changing diapers and before preparing food and eating. To wash your hands or your child’s hands, work up a good lather with soap and warm water. Scrub for at least 10 to 15 seconds, then rinse.

  • Wash sheets, towels, clothing, or other items soiled with blood or stool separately from other laundry. Use hot water.

  • Clean household surfaces that could have contact with infected blood or stool with a bleach and water solution. Use 1/4 cup of bleach in 1 gallon of water.

  • Be sure your child knows that sharing certain items with others can be risky. These items include toothbrushes, nail clippers, razors, and pierced earrings. Also be sure your child knows that drug and tattoo needles can carry the hepatitis virus.