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Children with cancer often receive blood and blood products as part of their treatment. Today, the U.S. blood supply is among the safest in the world. But, before the blood supply was routinely screened for viruses, some blood products contained hepatitis virus, which can cause infection of the liver.
Hepatitis is an infection of the liver that makes it stop working well. Most often, a virus causes the infection. The different types of hepatitis are named after the viruses that cause them. For example, hepatitis B is named after the hepatitis B virus that causes it.
The two main types of hepatitis that you can get from receiving infected blood products are hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
Many people don't have symptoms when they are first infected. Some have flu-like symptoms, such as fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, or low-grade fever. Others have symptoms that suggest that their liver is not working well. These include yellow eyes and skin (jaundice), dark urine, severe itching, or pale stools. In rare cases, people may become very sick and develop liver failure.
Hepatitis may go away and cause no further health problems. But many people who were infected with hepatitis B or C as children have chronic, or ongoing, hepatitis infection. People with chronic hepatitis may have no symptoms, but they are at risk for liver damage. Signs of liver damage include enlargement of the liver and spleen, swelling or collection of fluid in the abdomen, yellow eyes and skin (jaundice), and problems with blood clotting. In rare cares, liver cancer can develop.
Screening of donated blood for hepatitis B began in 1971 and the most accurate screening for hepatitis C began in 1992. If you received the following blood or serum products before these dates you are at risk for hepatitis.
Other factors that raise risk for hepatitis B and C include:
Survivors who are at risk for hepatitis B or C should have blood tests to check for hepatitis virus infection.
If your hepatitis infection doesn't resolve, see a liver specialist (hepotologist) for evaluation and possible treatment. In addition, follow these tips to help prevent further liver damage:
To prevent spreading hepatitis B or C to others:
You can help lower your risk for liver problems by keeping a healthy lifestyle, such as:
For more information about your liver and how to keep it healthy, read the related "Liver Health after Childhood Cancer."
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