Dealing With Hep B and C During Pregnancy

What is hepatitis?

Hepatitis is a group of viral infections. It affects your liver and causes swelling. There are three main forms: hepatitis A, B and C. Although they are related, each form has its own specific virus. People can get hepatitis from illness, drug use, alcohol abuse, and poisons.

Hepatitis A is primarily an acute (short-term) disease. People can be cured with or without treatment. Hepatitis B and C are usually chronic (long-lasting) diseases. Hepatitis A and B can be prevented with vaccines. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C.

Path to better health

Because hepatitis is a viral infection, it is contagious. Most of the time it is transferred through blood or body fluids. It can also be passed from mother to baby at birth. The risk is higher for women who have hepatitis B and C. If you are pregnant and have hepatitis, you should tell your doctor.

The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) recommends that all pregnant women be screened for hepatitis B at their first prenatal appointment. Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommend screening for hepatitis C during pregnancy, the AAFP currently does not do so. The AAFP only recommends hepatitis C screening for people who are at high risk for infection. This includes women who have:

  • used drugs
  • been exposed to needles
  • He received a blood transfusion.
  • You have HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)

A pregnant woman who tests positive for hepatitis B should receive a dose of immunoglobulin (IG). This injection helps treat the virus and protect the baby from it. After delivery, the baby should receive a dose of IG as well as the hepatitis B vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all babies receive the hepatitis B vaccine at birth.

Unlike hepatitis B, there is no medication that will help prevent a pregnant woman from passing hepatitis C to her baby. Pregnant women who have hepatitis B or C will receive additional prenatal care. This may include blood tests, liver tests, and medications to reduce symptoms.

Things to consider

Women who have hepatitis B or C during pregnancy can have several problems. One is acute fatty liver. This is a rare disease that affects the liver’s ability to process fatty acids. It often occurs late in pregnancy and can be serious. In these cases, the doctor may want to deliver the baby right away. This allows treatment to begin and helps prevent the baby from contracting the virus.

Another potential problem is gallstones. These can occur if fluids from the liver build up in the gallbladder. The stones can cause pain, swelling, and jaundice, which is when the skin and eyes turn yellow. If the gallstones are severe, you may need surgery.

Pregnant women who have hepatitis B or C should contact their doctor immediately if they have any complications.

Women using the medicine Rebetron (a combination of the medicines Rebetrol and Intron A) should not try to get pregnant. If you use this medication and become pregnant, stop taking it and consult your doctor. It can cause serious birth defects. It should also not be used by breastfeeding women. Talk to your doctor about other medications that may be harmful. These include prescription and over-the-counter medications.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • How do I know if I have hepatitis B or C?
  • What is the cause of my hepatitis?
  • If I have hepatitis B or C and am pregnant, what is the best form of treatment?
  • Are there any lifestyle changes I should make?
  • What is the risk of passing the virus to my baby at birth?

Resources

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C in pregnancy

Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your primary care doctor to find out if this information applies to you and for more information on this topic.

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