Baby Talk: Here’s what you need to know about hepatitis infections during pregnancy

The liver is the largest organ in the body. It is a very busy organ. The liver carries out more than 500 functions to keep the human body alive and well.

It filters blood, metabolizes carbohydrates, makes bile to help the body break down cholesterol and absorb fats, stores vitamins, metabolizes proteins, and helps keep our immune system healthy. That is the short list.

When the liver is damaged, the consequences affect quality of life and can even cause death.

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. The inflammation can be caused by parasites, cirrhosis and/or viruses.

The most common type of hepatitis we are concerned with in the child-bearing population is hepatitis B and hepatitis C. There are five viral hepatitis: A, B, C, D and E.

Hepatitis A is associated with contaminated water and food sources. Hepatitis D virus is codependent with hepatitis B. Hepatitis E is similar to A, transmitted through contaminated water.

Hepatitis B is spread through exposure to contaminated blood and other body fluids. It can be transmitted to a baby if the mother is infected with the hepatitis B virus during birth. If a mother is hepatitis B positive, we would give the baby the hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG) and the hepatitis vaccine within the first 12 hours of life.

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Katie Powers, R.N., is a board-certified lactation consultant and perinatal educator at Manatee Memorial Hospital’s Family BirthPlace.

Because of the high risk of the transmission of the virus, the CDC recommends all women are tested at the beginning of the pregnancy.

The hepatitis B vaccine became available in the US in 1982. It is a three-dose vaccine. It is recommended the first dose be given before a newly delivered baby leaves the hospital. If the parents refuse the vaccine at that time, it will be given at the two-month well-baby visit.

As we have seen with other vaccines, when more people are vaccinated, it reduces the risk for everyone to develop the illness.

There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, which is transmitted through contaminated blood. The most common source is contaminated needles. Sexual transmission can occur, but it is rare.

If a mother is both HIV positive and hepatitis C positive, her baby is at risk for being hepatitis C positive. It is becoming more common to see a mother with a diagnosis of hepatitis C positive. The crazy thing about hepatitis C is it can cause symptoms such as tiredness, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, jaundice, stomach pain and pain in the muscles and joints. It can also have no symptoms.

Most people who have been infected with the hepatitis C virus will become carriers. Carriers are people who do not have active signs of a disease but still have the virus in their system. Unfortunately, without treatment, the liver slowly rots.

There are new treatments for hepatitis C. The problem is they are expensive and not available to everyone who is hep C positive.

Tiny viruses — and tiny bacteria, all naked to the human eye — can take a life away.

Be safe, wash your hands, don’t share needles and take care of yourself now, so you can take care of your baby.

Katie Powers, R.N., is a board-certified lactation consultant and perinatal educator at Manatee Memorial Hospital’s Family BirthPlace. Her column appears every other week in Healthy Living in the Bradenton Herald. Contact her at

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