Hepatitis C in pregnancy
Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by a virus that is transmitted through contact with the blood of an infected person.
How else can hepatitis C spread?
Hepatitis C can also spread from using intravenous drugs (drugs injected with a needle) or from tattoos done with needles and paints that have not been properly sterilized (cleaned). Very rarely, hepatitis C can come from having unprotected sex with an infected person.
How do children get hepatitis C?
Most children get it from their infected mothers at birth. Before 1991, children sometimes got hepatitis C from blood transfusions. This almost never happens now because blood is screened.
What are the symptoms?
Most people have no symptoms. Some people will have nausea and jaundice (yellow skin and eyes) when they are first infected.
What are the long term effects of hepatitis C?
Sometimes the body can clear the virus on its own, but usually the virus stays in the liver.
People who have the virus in their liver for more than 6 months are known as hepatitis C carriers. Most carriers live for many years without major health problems, but some develop severe liver damage (cirrhosis) or cancer of the liver. These complications usually happen many years after a person first gets infected with hepatitis C.
I am pregnant. Should I be tested for hepatitis C?
Usually, doctors only do a blood test for hepatitis C for patients who are at risk. If you have ever used intravenous drugs, even just once, you should ask to be tested.
What will happen if I have hepatitis C?
There is no need to do a Caesarian section just because you have hepatitis C.
If you have hepatitis C, you should be referred to specialists who deal with this infection. Treatments exist, but the need for and timing of treatment can be assessed after your baby is born.
Should my baby be tested for hepatitis C?
Your baby will need to be tested for hepatitis C only if you test positive. Sometimes testing is done as early as 2 months of age, but it is not totally accurate at this age, so it will need to be done again at 18 months of age.
How can I protect my baby from getting hepatitis C?
If you have hepatitis C, there is about a 1 in 20 chance that you will pass it to your baby. The risk is higher if you also have HIV and are not being treated. Unfortunately there is no way to prevent the spread of hepatitis C to your baby.
Can I breastfeed if I have hepatitis C?
Studies have shown that the chance of passing hepatitis C to your baby from breastfeeding is very unlikely. You can breastfeed if you have hepatitis C, unless you also have HIV.
However, if you have hepatitis C and experience a flare-up of the illness with jaundice after your baby is born, you should not breastfeed. If your nipples are cracked or bleeding, you should also stop breastfeeding and pump and discard your milk until your nipples have healed.
What happens if my child has hepatitis C?
Approximately 1 in 5 children with hepatitis C clear the virus on their own. The others become carriers. Even though the virus stays in the liver of children who are carriers, most stay healthy until they are adults.
Children who are hepatitis C carriers will see their doctors regularly and have blood tests. Most do not need any medicine, but some will be treated with antiviral drugs to prevent severe liver damage (cirrhosis) or cancer of the liver.
More information from the CPS:
Reviewed by the following CPS committees:
- Infectious Diseases and Immunization Committee
Last Updated: May 2018