Every parent worries about the safety and well-being of their child, especially when it comes to getting sick. No parent wants to see their child feeling bad, and will do anything to protect them. Most of the time, when kids get sick, it’s common colds or the flu that they pick up from daycare or school. But what if someone in the family, or a pregnant woman, has hepatitis C? Even if hepatitis C is currently not in the family, it may still be a concern for parents who are aware of the virus, and think their kids may be at risk.
Hepatitis C in children
Thankfully, hepatitis C in children is uncommon. Some experts estimate that there may be 23,000 – 46,000 children with hepatitis C in the United States.1 The most common method of transmission in kids is vertical transmission, or transmission from an infected mother to child.1,2 However, with the current opioid epidemic, needle sharing during intravenous drug use may be leading to more cases of adolescent or teenage hepatitis C.
“I’m pregnant. Will my baby get hepatitis C?”
As mentioned, the most common way kids get hepatitis C is from a mother who has hep C. The exact way by which hepatitis C can be transferred from a pregnant mom to her child is not completely understood.3 There are also no specific delivery methods that change the chances that a mom will pass the infection onto her baby.3,4
Overall, the risk of a pregnant woman giving the virus to her baby is around 5%, or a 1 in 20 chance.1,2 The risk is highest for women with a high viral load or who also have HIV.1 It not recommended to treat hepatitis C while a woman is pregnant.4 Many women will be tested for hepatitis C when they become pregnant, especially if they have risk factors or have participated in behaviors that could lead to hepatitis C, like intravenous drug use. If you have hepatitis C and want to become pregnant, your doctor may recommend treating the virus before you get pregnant.
If you had hepatitis C while pregnant, your baby will be tested for the virus and monitored if need be. Some children born with hepatitis C may need to treat the virus, while others may clear it spontaneously (without treatment). For most women, it is okay to breastfeed if you have hepatitis C, unless your nipples are cracked and/or bleeding.4 Since the virus is spread through infected blood, it’s important to reduce your baby’s exposure to any blood source that has the virus.
“I have hepatitis C and my child doesn’t. Will they get it?”
Aside from vertical transmission, children can get hepatitis C in the same way adults can-exposure to infected blood. Although very rare, it is possible for the virus to be transmitted through household or personal hygiene objects that come in contact with blood. If you or another member of your family has hepatitis C, it’s important not to share razors, toothbrushes, toothpicks, or any other items that could come in contact with blood.5 If there is a blood spill in the house, it should be cleaned up thoroughly with a diluted bleach solution.
It’s important to remember that hepatitis C is spread through contact with infected blood, so things like hugging, sharing utensils, kissing, coughing, and sneezing will not transfer the virus.5
Even if you have treated the virus and it’s no longer in your household, or if no one in your family has ever had the virus, it’s still possible for your child to get hepatitis C if they are exposed to infected blood. For example, sharing needles during intravenous drug use, unprotected sex with multiple partners, or getting a tattoo or piercing in an unsterilized setting can all lead to the transmission of hepatitis C, just like they can in adults.5 Counseling children about the importance of avoiding these situations in order to reduce their risk of getting hepatitis C can help prevent the virus from making its way into your household.
Hepatitis C in Children. American Liver Foundation. https://liverfoundation.org/hepatitis-c-children/. Published July 10, 2018. Accessed June 8, 2019.
Jonas MM. Hepatitis C Infection in Children. UpToDate. Published January 16, 2019. Accessed June 8, 2019.
Prasad MR, Honegger JR. Hepatitis C Virus in Pregnancy. AM J Perinatol. 13 Dec 2013; 30(2). Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3862252/. Accessed June 8, 2019.
HCV in Pregnancy. American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases. https://www.hcvguidelines.org/unique-populations/pregnancy. Published May 24, 2018. Accessed June 8, 2019.
Viral Hepatitis: Q&As for the Public. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/cfaq.htm. Published November 2, 2018. Accessed June 8, 2019.