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Learning About Hepatitis B in Children

The digestive system

What is hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is a virus that infects the liver. Most people who get it have it for a short time and then get better. This is called acute hepatitis B.

Sometimes the virus causes a long-term infection, called chronic hepatitis B. Over time, it can damage your liver. Babies and young children infected with the virus are more likely to get chronic hepatitis B.

You can have hepatitis B and not know it. You may not have symptoms. If you do, they can make you feel like you have influenza (flu). As long as you have the virus, you can spread it to others.

What happens when your child has hepatitis B?

After your child is infected, it may be 1 to 6 months before symptoms start. Your child may get hepatitis B and get better. But if the virus stays in your child's body for a long time, it can cause serious liver disease.

What are the symptoms?

Most children 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 who have short-term hepatitis B don't usually need treatment. Children who have long-term hepatitis B will need to see a doctor on a regular basis to have their liver checked. They also may also 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?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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