This type of hepatitis is usually spread by fecal-oral contact, or fecal-infected food and water, and may also be spread by blood-borne infection (which is rare).
The following is a list of modes of transmission for hepatitis A:
- Consuming food made by an infected person who did not wash his or her hands well after using the bathroom
- Drinking water that is contaminated by infected feces — a problem in developing countries with poor sewage removal
- Getting your hands contaminated by an infected person's feces or dirty diaper, and then transmitting the infection to yourself by putting your hands near or in your mouth
- Outbreaks may occur in child care centers especially when there are children in diapers
- International travel to areas where hepatitis A is common
- Sexual contact with an infected person
- Use of illegal drugs
- Blood transfusions (very rare)
The CDC now recommends the vaccine for hepatitis A to children at age 1. Please consult your physician if you have questions about its use. The vaccine is especially recommended for the following children:
- Children who live in areas where there has been a community outbreak
- Children who have a blood clotting disorder, such as hemophilia
- Children who attend child care centers that have had outbreaks of hepatitis A
- Children with chronic liver disease
The vaccine is not recommended for children younger than age 12 months.
Hepatitis B is a serious infection of the liver. It is caused by the hepatitis B virus. It can be mild and short-term. Or it may be long-term and lead to chronic liver disease and liver failure in infants and young children.
The hepatitis B virus is spread from person to person through blood and body fluids, such as blood, semen, vaginal secretions or saliva. Infants may also get the disease if they are born to a mother who has the virus. Infected children often spread the virus to other children if there is frequent contact. People who are likely to be exposed to hepatitis B are:
- Babies born to mothers who have hepatitis B
- Babies born to mothers who have come from a country where hepatitis B is widespread, such as southeast Asia and China
- People in long-term care
- People who live with someone with the virus
- People who need kidney dialysis
- People who use IV drugs, have many sex partners or have unprotected sex
- About one-third of people with hepatitis B in the U.S. have an unknown source.
Hepatitis B is considered a concern for various reasons. The younger the person, the greater the likelihood of staying infected with hepatitis B and having life-long liver problems. These can include scarring of the liver and liver cancer.
The hepatitis B immunization involves various steps. The hepatitis B vaccine is widely used for routine childhood immunization. Children get the first shot between birth and 2 months. The second shot is given at 1 to 4 months and the third shot at 6 to 18 months. The vaccine prevents hepatitis B infection.
The symptoms of hepatitis C are usually mild and gradual. Children often show no symptoms at all. Transmission of hepatitis C occurs primarily from contact with infected blood, but can also occur from sexual contact or from an infected mother to her baby. Although hepatitis C has milder symptoms initially, it leads to chronic liver disease in a majority of people who are infected. According to the CDC, hepatitis C is the leading indication for liver transplantation in adults. With some cases of hepatitis C, no mode of transmission can be identified. The following describes persons who may be at risk for contracting hepatitis C:
- Children born to mothers who are infected with the virus
- People who have a blood clotting disorder such as hemophilia and received clotting factors before 1987
- Children who require dialysis for kidney failure
- Individuals who received a blood transfusion before 1992
- Adolescents who participate in high-risk activities such as IV drug use and/or unprotected heterosexual or homosexual contact with an infected person.
There is no vaccine for hepatitis C. People who are at risk should be checked regularly for hepatitis C. People who have hepatitis C should be monitored closely for signs of chronic hepatitis and liver failure.
This form of hepatitis can only occur in the presence of hepatitis B. If an individual has hepatitis B and does not show symptoms or shows very mild symptoms, infection with D can put that person at risk for liver failure that progresses rapidly. Hepatitis D can occur at the same time as the initial infection with B, or it may show up much later. Transmission of hepatitis D occurs the same way as hepatitis B, except the transmission from mother to baby is less common. Hepatitis D is rare in children born in the U.S. due to the common use of hepatitis B vaccine in infancy.
This form of hepatitis is similar to hepatitis A. Transmission occurs through fecal-oral contamination. It is less common in children than hepatitis A. Hepatitis E is most common in poorly developed countries and rarely seen in the United States. There is no vaccine for hepatitis E at this time.