The Effects of Hep C on a Fetus

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According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, Hepatitis C, also known as HCV, is the most common bloodborne chronic infection in the U.S. A person can be infected via intravenous drug use or an infected unscreened blood transfusion (although this is very rare). It can be transmitted sexually, but would require a blood exchange during sex to be passed from carrier to non-carrier. One in four infants born to mothers who test positive for hepatitis C will acquire the condition. Have a question? Get an answer from a doctor now!

  1. Infection and Liver Disease Transmission

    • Hepatitis C refers to an infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis C virus. Newly infected carriers will normally be without symptoms. Within one to three weeks of being infected, HCV RNA (ribonucleic acid) can be detected in the blood. A quantitative test will measure the amount of HCV RNA to determine how much of the virus is present, sometimes referred to as “viral load.” The CDC notes that, on average, it takes eight to nine weeks from exposure for the HCV antibody to be identified in more than 97 percent of patients. In 60 to 85 percent of these patients, chronic HCV infection will develop. Of these, 60 to 70 percent will show signs of active liver disease.

    Hepatitis C and Pregnancy

    • There is currently no way to prevent an unborn fetus from contracting HCV from her mother. Hepatitis C can be tested for via a blood screen, although doctors generally reserve testing for at-risk mothers (such as those who have used intravenous drugs recreationally). Antiviral drugs may be needed for pregnant mothers to decrease the chance of viral infection. The baby will need to be tested to see if she has the disease when she is born. A Caesarian section is not required for mothers who test positive for hepatitis C.

    Hepatitis Effect on Fetus and Infant

    • Hepatitis C infection has a lesser rate of transmission alone (zero to 18 percent according to Hepatitis Central) than when it is not comorbid with other infections diseases, such as HIV. Conditions such as HIV weaken the bodies defenses against the HCV virus, resulting in a higher viral load. The higher the viral load, the higher the risk of transmission to the infant. Antiviral therapy has not been determined to prevent transmission. Avoiding a long labor after the mother’s water has broken can reduce the chance of transmission to the infant.

      In utero, there is no data that can determine when transmission will occur if it does, or what the effects will be. Generally, the infant will receive HCV antibodies from the mother, and they can remain present for up to fifteen months. If the parents or pediatricians require it, HCV RNA testing can be done between two and six months of age. If the diagnosis can be delayed, an anti-HCV test can be done at fifteen months. The majority of HCV positive infants show no symptoms.

    Nursing and Hepatitis C

    • Mothers who test positive for hepatitis C do not need to avoid breastfeeding. If the child’s pediatrician feels the infant is not at risk due to other possible comorbid conditions, no current medical evidence suggests that nursing will spread HCV from mother to infant. A mother with hepatitis C should avoid nursing if her nipples are cracked and bleeding, as the virus is passed through blood.

    Treatment for Children Born with Hepatitis C

    • The Canadian Pediatric Society states that one in four children with hepatitis C will recover from it on their own without medicinal intervention. The others will be carriers of the disease, and it will stay in the child’s liver. The majority of these children will be healthy, although they will need to have regular blood work and checkups. Children that do develop symptoms will be given antiviral drugs to prevent liver damage, cirrhosis or liver cancer.

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