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Protecting your Kids: All about Hepatitis

            Hepatitis is one of those diseases about which most people aren’t aware of.  Most people with hepatitis miss the signs of disease and will be aware only after the infection has grown massively. Among the infected people, most are children who get infected before they turn one year old. Though, people can get infected with hepatitis irrespective of age; children are at higher risk. So, get an idea about hepatitis and know how you can protect your kids from being infected.

What is Hepatitis?

            The word “Hepatitis” refers to an inflammatory state of the liver that can result in damage and destruction of liver cells. Though there are several reasons which can damage the liver and cause hepatitis, a viral infection is the most common cause of it. When compared to adults, children have a weaker immune system; thus increasing their risk of getting infected by the virus.

What are the types of Hepatitis?

            There are mainly five types of hepatitis virus: A, B, C, D, and E. The latest research indicated that there is a possible sixth type of virus referred as Hepatitis G. Children are often infected with Hepatitis A, B, or C; while Hepatitis D and E are not so common in kids.

Here is a summary of each type of hepatitis and how parents can protect their kids from getting infected.

An overview of “Hepatitis A”

            Hepatitis A is the most common form of hepatitis in children. It is also known as infectious hepatitis. Hepatitis A is usually a short-term disease and has a mild impact on children.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis A?

            Most of the infants and young children infected with hepatitis A usually develop mild symptoms or will never develop any symptoms at all. Some of the symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Yellow discolouration of skin and white part of the eye.
  • Dark coloured urine

How does hepatitis A spread?

            Hepatitis A virus is found in the stool of infected people. People can get infected with hepatitis A when they ingest anything that was contaminated with HAV-infected stool. This usually happens in the places with unsanitary living conditions.

Hepatitis A can spread when a person

  • Comes into direct contact with an infected person
  • Consume fruits, vegetables, and other foods that were contaminated during handling
  • Swallows contaminated ice

How can hepatitis A be diagnosed?

Hepatitis A can be diagnosed with a blood test.

How can hepatitis A be treated?

            There are no medications to treat hepatitis A. No treatment can cure the disease. It is a transient disease that will resolve on its own over time. It takes several weeks or months to get cured. Regular liver functioning tests are prescribed to make sure the body is healing.

How can hepatitis A be prevented?

            The best way to prevent hepatitis A is to get vaccinated. Also, avoiding contact with an infected person can reduce the risk of getting infected with hepatitis A. Following a good Hygienic regime such as washing hands before eating food, consumption of home cooked meals/ clean food outlets is also helpful in preventing contraction of Hepatitis A.

What can parents do to protect their kids from Hepatitis A?

Safety measures which can keep children safe from getting infected with Hepatitis A include:

  • Every member of the family should wash their hands before touching or feeding the child
  • Fruits and vegetables should be washed properly
  • Make sure the child is drinking filtered and purified water
  • Avoid outside food
  • Make sure the food given to kids is well-cooked

An overview of “Hepatitis B”

            Hepatitis B is also known as Serum Hepatitis. When infants and young children are infected with hepatitis B, it can give rise to chronic liver issues such as cirrhosis, liver cancer, and liver failure. Hence, hepatitis B has a long-term impact on child’s health.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis B?

            When children under 5 years of age get infected with hepatitis B, they may not develop any symptoms. But children above 5 years may develop some symptoms after being exposed to the virus for 3 to 4 months. The main symptoms include:

  • Feeling ill
  • Yellowing of skin and white part of the eye
  • Low fever
  • Extreme fatigue
  • >Muscle aches
  • Joint pains
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite

How Can hepatitis B spread?

            Unlike Hepatitis A virus, hepatitis B virus is not present in the stool of an infected person. It can be found in the blood or body fluids such as saliva, tears, and semen. Therefore, a child infected with hepatitis B can be a carrier of the virus.

Children can get infected by hepatitis B virus when,

  • An infected person scratches them, that breaks their skin
  • They share personal items such as toothbrush with someone who is infected
  • They are being struck with the same needle or syringe that has been used to an infected person.
  • When a baby is born to a mother who carries hepatitis B virus, that got transmitted at the time of delivery.

How can hepatitis B be diagnosed?

            Hepatitis B can be diagnosed by the blood tests known as hepatitis virus panel. It includes a chain of blood tests that can discover the present or past infection of hepatitis B.

How can hepatitis B be treated?

In most cases, hepatitis B goes away on its own. Taking plenty of rest and having a hygienic diet can help relieve symptoms of the disease. Regular checkups can monitor how active the virus is.  Severe cases of acute hepatitis B can lead to liver damage. Hence, antiviral drugs are given to bring down the chances of hepatitis B getting worse.

How can hepatitis B be prevented?

            As mentioned earlier, the hepatitis B virus (HBV) can be transmitted to a newborn from its mother. Therefore,  getting screened for HBV during pregnancy is a must. This helps to determine and take safety measures to protect baby from the infection if the mother is diagnosed to be a carrier of the virus. Also, newborns should be given their first hepatitis B vaccine and immunoglobulins (IG) shot within the first 12 hours of birth. Every baby must finish its hepatitis B vaccines as prescribed during the first six months.

What can parents do to protect their kids from Hepatitis B?

To keep children safe from getting infected with Hepatitis B, parents should:

  • Safeguard their children from coming in direct contact with blood and body fluids of other persons especially who are infected
  • Teach their kids not to share toothbrushes, spoons or any other personal things that have chances to cause infection
  • Make sure that fresh syringes and needles are used whenever children need to get an injection.

An overview of “Hepatitis C”

            Hepatitis C is a serious illness that has a long-term impact on health and requires long-term care. It is caused by Hepatitis C virus. There are two types of hepatitis C infections, acute and chronic. When compared to chronic, acute hepatitis C is harmless and can be resolved within 6 months. The infection that doesn’t get cured in the acute stage will be subjected to the chronic form of hepatitis C. Though it is not so common in children, hepatitis C can lead to chronic liver disease which mostly needs a liver transplantation.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis C?

            Children infected with hepatitis C often show no symptoms at all. Even if they show any symptoms, these would be mild, gradual and similar to that of hepatitis A and B. Some of the symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Diarrhea
  • Hives and itchy skin
  • Muscle cramps
  • Stomach ache

How does hepatitis C spread?

            Hepatitis C is a blood-borne disease i.e. it spreads by direct contact with the blood of an infected person. It is more common in adults than in children. Children mostly get infected with hepatitis C if,

  • they are born to mothers who are infected by the virus
  • they are injected with a needle that was used on an infected person
  • they underwent a blood transfusion in which they received blood from an infected person
  • a medical equipment is reused without being sterilized

How can hepatitis C be diagnosed?

            Hepatitis C is usually diagnosed by blood tests. If these tests show the presence of hepatitis C antibodies, it means that the person has had the infection at some point. If hepatitis C is diagnosed, a liver biopsy is prescribed to monitor how well the liver is working.

How can hepatitis C be treated?

            Since hepatitis C is of two types: acute and chronic; they both are treated differently. If children have acute hepatitis C, they will be suggested to take plenty of rest, a hygienic diet and consuming a lot of fluids.

If the children suffer from chronic hepatitis C i.e. the infection has endured more than 6 months, the treatment plan includes anti-viral medications to eliminate the virus from the body. In rare cases, a liver transplant may be necessary if the child experiences a severe liver damage.

How can hepatitis C be prevented?

            Since hepatitis C is a blood-borne disease, the only way to prevent it is to avoid contact with anyone’s blood; as we cannot be sure whether a person is infected or not.

What can parents do to protect their kids from Hepatitis C?

To protect their kids from hepatitis C, parents should:

  • Ensure that the needles and syringes are new, whenever their child gets any shot
  • Make sure the blood transfusion is done with safe blood if the child requires a transfusion
  • Be careful while using equipment that may have a chance to have someone else’s blood on it
  • Teach children not to share any personal items

An overview of “Hepatitis D”

            Hepatitis D is caused by the hepatitis D virus, which is also known as delta virus. Unlike the other forms, hepatitis D cannot get contracted alone. It needs hepatitis B virus to survive and multiply. The hepatitis D virus becomes stronger with the presence of HBV. Hence, children who are infected with chronic hepatitis B have an increased risk of getting hepatitis D.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis D?

The symptoms of hepatitis D are similar to those of hepatitis B.

How does hepatitis D can spread?

            Hepatitis D transmits in a similar way as hepatitis B does, except the transmission of the virus from mother to a newborn is less common.

How can hepatitis D be diagnosed?

Hepatitis D can be diagnosed through blood tests.

How can hepatitis D be treated?

            There is no specific treatment for hepatitis D. But comparatively, it is less common in children than hepatitis A, B, and C. Doctor may prescribe medication other than anti-viral drugs to treat the condition, as the anti-viral drugs are not so effective against the virus.

How can hepatitis D be prevented?

            As hepatitis D virus cannot survive without HBV, the only way to prevent hepatitis D is to get vaccinated against hepatitis B.

An overview of “Hepatitis E”

Hepatitis E is a waterborne disease. Similar to hepatitis A, it transmits through fecal-oral contamination; but it is less common in children as compared to hepatitis A. People who live in regions with poor sanitation are at a higher risk of getting infected with hepatitis E.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis E?

One with hepatitis E may have the symptoms such as:

  • Low fever
  • Nausea
  • Joint pains
  • Skin rash
  • Signs of jaundice

How does hepatitis E spread?

            As hepatitis E is a waterborne disease, people can get infected by the virus when they come consume contaminated food and water. Also, the virus can be found in undercooked and contaminated meat.

How can hepatitis E be diagnosed?

Hepatitis E can be diagnosed through blood tests.

How can hepatitis E be treated?

            There is no specific treatment for hepatitis E. Usually, hepatitis E will resolve on its own and doesn’t develop into a severe stage. If it does, then the doctor may prescribe anti-viral drugs to eliminate the virus from the body. This helps in treating the infection and prevent it from getting worse.

How can hepatitis E be prevented?

            Since contaminated food and water are the mediums for transmission of hepatitis E virus, Hepatitis E can be prevented by maintaining personal hygiene.

What can parents do to protect their kids from Hepatitis E?

To protect from hepatitis E, parents should:

  • Never let their kids have food from street vendors, especially in places with unhygienic conditions.
  • Avoid giving them undercooked meat
  • Wash the fruits and vegetables thoroughly before consumption
  • Ensure their kids drink clean, properly filtered water Make them strictly follow healthy practices to maintain personal hygiene

As you have come to know about hepatitis and what can cause different types of it, take all the safety measures possible to protect your kids from getting infected. And most importantly, ensure your kids are getting their vaccinations on time as per the immunization schedule. The only way by which we can protect children from contracting hepatitis is to prevent the possible ways of occurrence and detect early if occurred.

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