If You’re Pregnant, You Should Be Screened for Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. Here’s Why.
An ob-gyn explains what hepatitis is and why screening recommendations have changed.
Hepatitis. It’s one of those medical words you may have heard, but never understood. And if you’re pregnant, it’s a word you might hear at your first prenatal visit. That’s because you should get your blood drawn to test for several infections—including two types of viral hepatitis.
Simply put, “hepatitis” means inflammation (swelling) of the liver. When this swelling is caused by a virus, it’s called viral hepatitis. Viral hepatitis is one of the most common infections seen in pregnancy, and it can be serious.
There are different types of viral hepatitis: A, B, C, D, and E. Hepatitis B and C are two of the most serious types that are common in the United States. Doctors have long recommended that you get tested for hepatitis B during each pregnancy. And now we recommend hepatitis C testing during each pregnancy too. Here are six reasons why.
1. More people are getting hepatitis C. Rates of hepatitis C are increasing, particularly among young adults. The virus can be spread through exposure to infected blood or body fluids. For example, it can be spread through sexual contact (mainly through anal sex) or injection drug use. You can also get it by sharing personal items such as razors or toothbrushes with an infected person.
2. Universal testing catches the most cases. When we only test those who have risk factors, we miss a lot of people who have the infection. It’s better to screen everyone, regardless of risk factors.
3. Most people with hepatitis C don’t know they are infected. That’s partly because only 1 in 4 people with hepatitis C have symptoms. Still, infection without symptoms can lead to chronic disease that causes severe problems later in life.
4. Hepatitis C can be passed from mom to baby. Although not as common as with hepatitis B, hepatitis C can be passed to a baby during birth. About 6 in 100 pregnant women with hepatitis C pass it to their babies. The risk varies based on how much virus you have in your body and whether you also have HIV.
5. Pregnancy is a good time to get tested, if you haven’t already. Ideally you would get tested for hepatitis C before pregnancy. The medication for hepatitis C can’t be given during pregnancy. So, if possible, it’s better to get the test and then get treated before getting pregnant. (The test is recommended for all adults at least once in your lifetime, anyway.) But if you’re pregnant, now is a good time to be screened. Testing during pregnancy allows you to make plans to start treatment after pregnancy, and to plan the right health care for your baby if needed.
[Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C in Pregnancy]
6. Hepatitis C can now be cured. Hepatitis B symptoms can be managed with medication. The outlook with hepatitis C is even better: There are pills that essentially cure the disease. This is a change from the past—we didn’t always have a cure for hepatitis C. That means that even though infection rates are increasing, there’s now something we can do about it.
So when you’re at your next prenatal care visit, be sure to ask: Have I been tested for both hepatitis B and hepatitis C? A simple blood test can make a meaningful difference for your life, your health, and your family.
Published: September 2022
Last reviewed: September 2022
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This information is designed as an educational aid for the public. It offers current information and opinions related to women's health. It is not intended as a statement of the standard of care. It does not explain all of the proper treatments or methods of care. It is not a substitute for the advice of a physician. Read ACOG’s complete disclaimer.