Neonatal hepatitis is a type of liver inflammation that occurs only in infancy, usually between one- and two months following birth. Neonatal hepatitis newborns may be infected by a virus that caused the inflammation before or shortly after birth by their mother. Cytomegalovirus, Rubella (measles), and Hepatitis A, B, or C viruses are examples. However, in most cases, no single virus can be identified as the cause, yet many scientists believe it is a virus.
A baby suffering from neonatal hepatitis typically has jaundice (yellow eyes and skin) that starts between one and two months of age, is not gaining weight or growing normally, and has an enlarged liver and spleen. The infant is unable to absorb vitamins required for optimal growth.
Neonatal hepatitis is an exclusion diagnosis, which means that all other known causes of liver disease in infancy must be ruled out. Infants with jaundice are thus examined for a variety of potential causes of liver inflammation. Many causes of liver illness in infancy are best addressed early, thus testing should be done as soon as feasible, and should include blood tests and liver imaging. To help diagnose, Doctors may advise certain children to a liver biopsy. If no specific cause of the liver malfunction is found, the inflammatory process in the infant’s liver is referred to as neonatal hepatitis.
Neonatal hepatitis has no specific treatment. Jaundiced infants have decreased bile flow from the liver; bile is essential for the absorption of lipids and fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K). As a result, newborns who are jaundiced may require fat-soluble vitamins or specialist infant formulae to maintain healthy growth and development. Most infants can resume a normal diet and vitamin regimen once neonatal hepatitis has cleared. Medications are also given to improve bile flow.
Neonatal hepatitis caused by the hepatitis A virus normally recovers within six months, whereas cases caused by the hepatitis B or C viruses are more likely to result in chronic liver disease. Cirrhotic infants will eventually require a liver transplant.
Mothers-to-be, we urge you to get tested and vaccinated for Hepatitis to protect your child.
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Canadian Liver Foundation. (n.d.). Neonatal Hepatitis. https://www.liver.ca/patients-caregivers/liver-diseases/neonatal-hepatitis/
John Hopkins Medicine. (2022, July 19). Neonatal Hepatitis. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/hepatitis/neonatal-hepatitis