Digestive and Gastrointestinal Conditions

Viral Hepatitis

What is viral hepatitis?

Viral hepatitis is an infection from a virus that causes inflammation of the liver.

In the United States, there are 3 common types of viral hepatitis:

  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Hepatitis C

How do children get it?

Viral hepatitis is spread in different ways depending on the type. Hepatitis B and C are the types that lead to persistent and chronic infection. The most common way children are infected is when a mother with hepatitis B or C passes the virus to the baby during birth.

How is viral hepatitis spread?

Hepatitis A is spread through feces, such as when someone does not wash their hands well after having a bowel movement and then infection is passed via food. Although not as common in the United States as in other parts of the world, hepatitis A is most commonly spread through contaminated food.

Hepatitis B and C are blood infections and spread when the blood or other bodily fluids (semen and/or vaginal fluids) of an infected person enter the bloodstream of a noninfected person. In children, the most common way that hepatitis B and C are spread is when a mother with the condition passes the virus to the baby during delivery with exposure to blood and fluids during the birth process.

About hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a short-term (acute) disease that causes the liver to become inflamed and not work properly. Unlike hepatitis B or C, hepatitis A is an illness that you usually get for a short period of time (months) and then get better. However, hepatitis A is contagious and easily passed to other people through poor hand hygiene.

Hepatitis A is spread through food contaminated with feces (stool) from an infected person. This is less common in the United States than it is in some other countries. Children ages 1 year and older who are traveling to high-risk countries outside the United States are strongly advised to get the hepatitis A vaccine. All children over age 2 are recommended to be vaccinated against hepatitis here in the United States.

Hepatitis A does not need to be treated with a specific medicine. Most people get better and do not have permanent liver damage. Learn more about symptoms and treatment.

About hepatitis B and C

Hepatitis B and C are contagious liver diseases that can either be acute (causing short-term illness) or chronic (causing long-term illness).Acute hepatitis B and C occur shortly after someone is exposed to the virus. They can lead to chronic infection. Chronic hepatitis B and C is when the virus remains in the person’s body for longer than 6 months after they were first exposed.

Children may also get hepatitis B or C because they are living with or have exchanged blood and/or bodily fluids with someone who is infected.

Hepatitis B and C can also be spread by:

  • Having unprotected sex with an infected person, especially when there is potential for bleeding.
  • Sharing contaminated needles or other drug-injecting equipment.
  • Having a blood transfusion in a country where blood is not screened for viral hepatitis. (The United States began widespread screening of its blood supply in 1992. Today, some adults with hepatitis C became infected through a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992.)

Chronic hepatitis B and C may require treatment with medicines.

If left untreated over a long time, hepatitis B and C can cause liver damage, such as cirrhosis or liver cancer. Learn more about symptoms and treatment.

Why choose Seattle Children’s?

We offer advanced treatments

Seattle Children’s is a leader in developing and researching new treatments to return your child to health. When your child is treated for viral hepatitis here, they are provided access to medicines and therapies that aren’t available anywhere else. We’re able to offer the latest cutting-edge treatments that others simply cannot, thanks to our research trials.

Seattle Children’s is the only pediatric hepatology group in Washington, Montana, Idaho and Oregon involved in leading treatment trials for advancing new medications to children with viral hepatitis, including oral medications currently only approved for use in adults. Because these newer medicines are taken by mouth, they are often better tolerated by children and have fewer side effects than the injections currently approved for use in children. Therefore, your child has an opportunity to overcome their illness quicker and more comfortably.

Seattle Children’s is part of the Hepatitis B Research Network (HBRN). This is a group of 7 pediatric centers around North America collecting data to learn more about hepatitis B and using innovative therapies to treat this persistent infection.

We are also investigating the impacts of hepatitis B and C on the liver in children, trying to understand what effect the virus has on your child’s quality of life – and that of your family.

If your child meets the criteria for our research trials and is accepted into our program, our research coordinators will work with your child and family through every step of the treatment process. Read more.

The experts you need are here

Our doctors are some of the top experts in diagnosing and treating viral hepatitis in children. In fact, U.S. News & World Report ranked Seattle Children’s Gastroenterology Program one of the best in the country in 2014. Our team of pediatric hepatologists (liver experts), surgeons, nurses and research trial coordinators partner together to provide the most advanced care to your child and offer the support and guidance your family needs.

We treat children of all ages

Our team of doctors and nurses are trained to treat children of all ages, from newborns to teenagers. We understand our young patients have unique needs, and our specially trained clinicians will work with your child and family to ensure all of your questions are answered using language and hands-on demonstrations they can understand.

Our approach to treatment improves quality of life

We work together for the common goal of returning your child to health. We’ll give your family the support and information it needs during every step of your child’s treatment.

Your child and family get support

We respect the emotional toll your child’s illness can have on you and your family. That’s why our team includes psychologists and social workers who will help your child understand his or her disease in language your child can understand and provide the support your child and family need.

Contact Us

To make an appointment with Seattle Children’s Gastroenterology and Hepatology Department, start by asking your child’s primary care doctor for a referral. If you have a referral, call 206-987-2521 to schedule your child’s appointment.