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Learning About Hepatitis B in Children

The digestive system

What is hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a liver infection. It is caused by the hepatitis B virus.

A mother who has the virus can pass it to her baby during delivery. If you have the virus, your baby can get shots to help prevent getting the virus.

The virus can also be spread:

  • Through infected blood, semen, and other body fluids during sexual contact.
  • When people share needles to inject drugs.
  • When an infected person shares items that may have blood on them, such as a razor or toothbrush.
  • When needles used for tattoos, body piercing, or acupuncture are not cleaned properly.

You can't get hepatitis B from casual contact such as hugging, kissing, sneezing, coughing, or sharing food or drinks.

What happens when your child has hepatitis B?

After your child is infected, it may be 1 to 6 months before symptoms start. Or symptoms may be so mild that you do not notice them. But your child can give the infection to other people both before and after symptoms start.

Your child may get hepatitis B and get better. This is called acute hepatitis B. Your child will not get it again.

If the virus stays in your child's body for a long time, it can cause serious liver disease. This is called chronic hepatitis B.

What are the symptoms?

Most people who get hepatitis B do not have symptoms. If your child does have symptoms, they will usually start to go away in 2 to 3 weeks. Symptoms may include:

  • Tiredness.
  • Fever.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Light-coloured stools.
  • Dark urine.
  • Yellow skin and eyes (jaundice).

How can you prevent hepatitis B in your child?

  • Make sure your child gets the recommended hepatitis B vaccine.
  • Teach children not to share an item that could have an infected person's blood on it. This could be a toothbrush or nail clippers.
  • Make sure older children understand:
    • The importance of using condoms during sex.
    • That sharing needles when injecting drugs is another way to get hepatitis B.

How is it treated?

  • Children with acute hepatitis B don't usually need treatment.
  • Children with chronic hepatitis B have to see a doctor regularly to have their liver checked. They may need antiviral medicines to prevent liver damage.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

Where can you learn more?

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