Hepatitis C During Pregnancy

The Hepatitis C virus is responsible for this infection, which can be acute or chronic. However, both mothers and their babies don't usually suffer from complications during acute infections.
Hepatitis C During Pregnancy

Last update: 03 October, 2021

Even though just a small number of people suffer from complications caused by Hepatitis C, it’s a public health problem. Hepatitis C is a worldwide spread viral infection. Furthermore, it’s transmitted through the blood, especially through the injections of illicit drugs.

Even though in most cases, pregnant women don’t usually have complications, in the case of chronic infections, some women and babies may experience additional difficulties. If you want to learn more about this topic, continue reading.

What is Hepatitis C?

Just as its name indicates, Hepatitis C is an inflammation of the hepatic tissue. According to an article from the World Health Organization (WHO), the Hepatitis C virus can cause acute or chronic infection. However, most of the people who suffer from this don’t present symptoms.

Notwithstanding, the fact that people don’t display symptoms doesn’t mean their situation isn’t complicated. In fact, when people suffer from a chronic infection, it may lead to hepatic cancer. According to the WHO, 71 million people suffer from chronic Hepatitis C infections.

Hepatic infection.

 

Even though this virus is spread worldwide, it’s more frequent in certain areas of Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean. This is even more frequent among groups of people who use illegal injectable drugs.

How is Hepatitis C transmitted?

Blood is the fluid that transmits this virus. According to an article from the magazine Offarm, these are the most frequent modes of transmission:

  • Transfusions
  • Hemodialysis
  • Addiction to intravenously administered drugs
  • Organ transplantation
  • Work accidents involving health care providers
  • Tattoos, piercings, and acupuncture

In addition, future mothers can transmit infections to the fetus through vertical transmissions.

According to an article from the Federación Argentina de Sociedades de Ginecología y Obstetricia (Argentine Federation of Societies of Gynecology and Obstetrics), in the US, between 1 and 2.5 % of pregnant women have this infection. As a result, this increases the number of vertical transmissions.

How do I know if I have Hepatitis C?

From a clinical point of view, most patients don’t experience symptoms, especially in the case of acute infections. When patients have symptoms, the incubation period has finished. This can happen between 2 weeks and 6 months. The following are the most common symptoms:

  • Yellow skin color (jaundice)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain, especially in the upper right area (right hypochondrium)
  • Fever
  • Dark urine
  • Pale or light feces

In case you have any of these symptoms,  you should go to the doctor as soon as you can in order to obtain a Hepatitis C diagnosis. However, in many countries, it’s important to take this test regularly, especially during prenatal checkups.

These studies include blood tests, which include antibody testing of the blood. If antibody levels are high, there’s enough evidence to confirm that there’s genetic material of the virus in the blood.

If the results are positive, doctors need to evaluate the seriousness of the damage to the liver. Then, they may ask for a magnetic resonance elastography, an ultrasound elastography, or a liver biopsy, according to what specialists from the Mayo Clinic state in a study.

Hepatitis C treatment during pregnancy

During pregnancy, Hepatitis C treatment varies according to the seriousness of the damage in the liver and the symptoms patients have. According to an article from Revista de Gastroentelorogía del Perú (Journal of Gastroenterology of Perú), in this case, therapy has many objectives:

“Pregnant women who have the Hepatitis C virus must be very careful in damaging their liver.
Besides, they should also control the effects of the virus and reduce the possibility of transmitting it to their children”.

For this reason, it’s very important to avoid medications that can affect the liver. This way, you’ll prevent complications during the infection. Women who suffer from cirrhosis (one of the consequences of chronic hepatitis) may experience certain difficulties, which require emergency treatments. 

These treatments may include medication to avoid blood coagulation or even endoscopic or surgical interventions to treat varicose veins that may cause internal hemorrhage.

Hepatitis C during pregnancy: How it affects you and your baby

Many women may go through their pregnancies without noticing that they suffer from Hepatitis C. As we’ve mentioned before, the risk of developing complications is quite scarce. However, according to the articles previously quoted, in certain cases, chronic infections may lead to cirrhosis or even cancer.

Yellow eyes due to hepatitis.

Even though vertical transmission is possible, so far there’s no evidence to suggest that scheduled C-sections or breastfeeding interruption would prevent it from happening.

A study called Transmisión del virus de la hepatitis C al recién nacido (Hepatitis C Virus Transmission to the Newborn Baby) states that transmissions can occur during labor, no matter whether it’s natural birth or C-section. In addition, if the mother suffers from HIV, the chances are higher.

According to an article from Gastroenterología y Hepatología (Gastroenterology and Hepatology), chronic infections from Hepatitis C virus don’t cause additional risks during pregnancy. If the mother is stable, the worst thing that can happen is that the baby gets infected.

Even though acute infections may cause alarming symptoms, it’s the tiny possibility of suffering from a chronic infection that may really affect children’s health. In order to detect this, it’s very important to visit the doctor frequently.

Medical check-ups are essential

Despite the fact that the Hepatitis C virus doesn’t cause major health problems, it’s important to know that it may lead to certain complications.

Therefore, people should have access to screening tests or be able to go to the doctor in case they notice some of the symptoms previously mentioned. This way, they’ll get a proper diagnosis and get treatment in time.

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