Hepatitis is a generic term for an infection of the liver. There are three types of hepatitis: Hepatitis A, B and C.
Hepatitis A – this is an infectious virus and is transmitted through contaminated poo. This is the most common form of hepatitis in children.
Hepatitis B – is one of the most common infections in the world. This virus is spread through blood and body fluids. Because of its serious public health implications, hepatitis B is now included in the Childhood Immunisation Schedule and it is suggested that all adults receive vaccination.
Hepatitis C – This virus is spread by blood to blood contact. There is currently no vaccination for hepatitis C.
What causes hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is caused by the hepatitis A virus and is spread through contact with someone who has the virus or from contaminated food or water. Hepatitis A is highly contagious.
Is hepatitis A serious?
Most hepatitis A infections are not very serious. Most kids recover fully and don’t experience any permanent liver damage. In the most serious hepatitis infections, kids can suffer from complete liver failure and may need a liver transplant, but this is rare.
Can I prevent hepatitis A?
Hepatitis A is best prevented through good hygiene. Teach your kids to wash their hands after they go to the bathroom, before they eat, whenever they handle food, and at other times throughout the day to prevent getting or spreading the virus. Make sure that you practice good hygiene too. People with hepatitis A are contagious for about three weeks, two weeks before they begin to show symptoms and one week after symptoms occur.
How do I know if my child has hepatitis A?
About 90% of kids under the age of six who get hepatitis don’t get sick from the virus. Those who do get sick, may experience some or all of the following symptoms:
- Stomach pains
- Dark urine
- Light coloured poo
- Loss of appetite
- Jaundice (yellowish skin and eyes)
How do I treat hepatitis A?
Most of the time, your child’s body will fight the hepatitis infection all on its own. Make sure that your child has lots of clear liquids to drink. They'll probably feel tired too and need a lot of rest. Because the hepatitis virus can prevent your child’s liver from functioning at its best, if she takes regular medications, her doctor may recommend that they stop taking them temporarily to rest her liver.
Should I call the doctor?
If you know that your child has been exposed to hepatitis A, call your doctor for advice. He may recommend a vaccination. Once your child has had hepatitis A, they will remain immune for life.
What you need to know about hepatitis
- Hepatitis is an infection of the liver.
- Most kids get hepatitis A, or infectious hepatitis.
- 90% of kids who get hepatitis A don’t get sick from it.
- Once your child has had hepatitis A, they will remain immune for life.
- Hepatitis A is best prevented through good sanitation practices.
Find more relevant articles and information about hepatitis
- Find out more about viral infections
- Find out more about vaccines and vaccinations
- Learn more about teaching your child good hygiene practices
Written by Rebecca Stigall for Kidspot, New Zealand’s parenting resource for family health. Sources include Ministry of Health NZ, Better Health Channel, NSW Health and Health Insite.
Last revised: Thursday, 23 October 2014
This article contains general information only and is not intended to replace advice from a qualified health professional.