Hepatitis C is a virus that damages the liver and more than 300,000 Australian are thought to be infected. There is no vaccination available for hepatitis C however, most adults can be cured through an intensive course of oral medication.
The hepatitis C virus can cause both acute and chronic hepatitis infection.
Acute hepatitis C
- A short-term infection
- May have only mild or no symptoms
- May improve without treatment
- Can be passed on to others.
Chronic hepatitis C
- The virus stays in the body after the initial infection (more than six months)
- May cause long-term liver damage including cancer
- Can be passed on to others.
Signs and symptoms
Only a small number of people experience symptoms with an acute infection. These may include:
- skin and the whites of the eyes turn yellow (jaundice)
- dark orange- or tea-coloured urine
- a swollen and painful liver (right-hand side of abdomen).
People who develop a chronic infection are at risk of cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver failure.
How is it transmitted?
Hepatitis C is transmitted through infected blood entering the bloodstream of another person.
Children and young people can get hepatitis C through:
- re-using or sharing drug injecting equipment including needles and syringes, spoons and mixing water
- sharing personal hygiene equipment such as razors or toothbrushes with an infected person
- sexual contact where blood is present
- non-sterile medical and dental procedures
- cosmetic procedures involving piercing of the skin
- mother to child transmission.
Hepatitis C is not transmitted by social contact or sharing items such as crockery, cutlery, shower or toilet facilities.
How is it diagnosed?
A blood test is the only way to tell if you are infected with the hepatitis C virus. The first step is to screen for presence of the hepatitis C antibody in the blood. If this is positive, a second blood test will be done to look for the presence of the virus.
Sometimes people test positive for the antibody but negative for the virus. This means the virus has been in their blood but is now gone. This doesn’t mean they are immune and they can be infected again.
Testing for hepatitis C is recommended for children and young people who:
- have undertaken high-risk activities such as:
- injecting drugs
- getting home piercings or backyard tattoos
- engaged in sexual acts or other physical activities that involved blood to blood contact
- had a medical or dental procedure in the developing world
- had an abnormal liver test
- are migrants from areas with a high prevalence of hepatitis C. See Global epidemiology of hepatitis C virus infection information provided by US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- have been born to a mother with hepatitis C.
What is the treatment?
Hepatitis C doesn’t always require treatment as the immune response will sometimes clear the infection. However, treatment may be required for chronic infections and will depend on multiple factors including your child’s liver function and whether there are other complications from infection. Many adults are treated with oral medication and clinical trials are currently under way to test this medication for children.
Care at home
Children with hepatitis C should:
- maintain a healthy well-balanced diet
- get adequate rest
- minimise the use of paracetamol unless medically instructed.
For more information on hepatitis C you can talk to:
Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital
501 Stanley Street, South Brisbane 4101
t: 07 3068 1111 (general enquiries)
In an emergency, always call 000.
If it’s not an emergency but you have any concerns, contact 13 Health (13 43 2584). Qualified staff will give you advice on who to talk to and how quickly you should do it. You can phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.