Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. It could be a result of infection, exposure to alcohol, some medications, poisons, or a disorder of the immune system. There are three types of hepatitis, which are caused by different viruses. Hepatitis A is the most common in children but can be prevented through vaccination. The other two common types are hepatitis B and C.

Unlike hepatitis B and C, hepatitis A does not cause chronic disease. Although the liver becomes inflamed and swollen, it heals completely in most people without any long-term damage. Once a person contracts hepatitis A, they develop lifelong immunity, and rarely contract the disease again. Children who live with someone who already has the virus, those who attend day care, and those who live in areas where there is poor hygiene and sanitary conditions are more susceptible.

How the disease is spread…

Hepatitis A virus is spread through contaminated water or food. Your child will show symptoms in about two to six weeks after exposure. The most common symptoms include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, jaundice (yellowing of eyes and skin), abdominal pain and diarrhoea. Your child may also have flu-like symptoms. However, some infected children may not show symptoms and get well without treatment after a few weeks. Diagnosis is done through blood screening.

Hepatitis B is spread when your child comes into contact with blood and body fluids of a person infected with the virus. It is much more serious than hepatitis A and could lead to liver failure.  Just like hepatitis B, hepatitis C is spread through contact with blood and body fluids of an infected person. If treatment is not offered in good time, this illness can lead to liver disease. The risk of transmission from mother to baby is approximately five to 10 percent and increases if the mother is also infected with the HIV virus. However, the risk of transmission from mother to baby is not affected by the mode of delivery.

Vaccination helps…

Hepatitis A has a vaccine that can protect your child from infection. Children between two and 18 years need three shots of the vaccine, which should be spread out over a period of one  year. Your child needs all the shots for full protection. You should ask your doctor for more information on the vaccination programme.  It is also vital to encourage your child to practice good hygiene such as thoroughly washing his hands after visiting the toilet.

Since hepatitis A is not treatable, the aim of the vaccine is to keep your child from becoming infected. However, the vaccine may trigger side effects such as soreness where the shot is given, headaches, decreased appetite and fatigue. Severe reactions, though rare, include a serious allergic reaction.

Hepatitis C has no vaccine and in some cases there are no symptoms until advanced liver damage develops. It is treatable if identified before significant complications develop.  Therefore, early diagnosis is essential to controlling its spread and damage to the organs. If your child is diagnosed with hepatitis C, he should be vaccinated against hepatitis A and B.

Protecting your child…

Hepatitis C virus can also be spread through equipment used in body piercing if the previous user was infected with the virus and the equipment was not properly sterilised. It is therefore important that anything used to pierce, say your child’s earlobes, is properly sterilised to guard against infection.