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Hepatitis literally means inflammation or infection of the liver. Some types of hepatitis are sexually transmitted, but some can be spread through water, a handshake, or blood.

Read on to find out more about hepatitis A, B and C and how they affect a fetus during pregnancy.

STD testing during pregnancy

Almost every woman understands the importance of receiving prenatal care during pregnancy, and taking special care of her health and her body. Yet, a recent study shows that women are not getting tested for sexually transmitted disease during pregnancy routinely. This is bad news, because pregnant women are certainly not immune to STDs, even if they have been monogamous for a long time. Embarrassment should not stop any person from being tested for sexually transmitted diseases, especially during pregnancy. Most sexually transmitted diseases can have nasty consequences for babies in utero, during labor and delivery, and in the neonatal period. Hepatitis simply means infection or inflammation of the liver, and there are many forms of hepatitis including alcoholic hepatitis and autoimmune hepatitis. Hepatitis A, B and C can all be sexually transmitted.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is the least serious of the types of hepatitis we're discussing. Usually transmitted through contaminated water, foods, or any contact (like a handshake) with an infected person, hepatitis A is mostly associated with developing countries that do not have proper sanitation. Hepatitis A is an acute infectious disease. It cannot become chronic, and the antibodies formed after infection assure that reinfection is not possible. Women living in areas where hepatitis A is common should ideally get vaccinated before pregnancy. There is no evidence to suggest that the vaccine is dangerous during pregnancy, so you can consider getting the shot at that time as well. Hepatitis A causes flu-like symptoms, as well as jaundice, fatigue, nausea and/or vomiting, fever, and abdominal pain. There aren't any long-term risks. Women who get hep A during pregnancy can infect the baby, and the baby's liver can become inflamed too. Studies suggest that fetal hepatitis A does not increase the risk of birth defects, but there may be a risk of preterm labor and the complications associated with that.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B much more serious than hepatitis A, and is the most frequently encountered serious liver disease. It can be acute, and an infected person can fight the disease off. If the immune system did not succeed in getting rid of the virus six months after infection, hepatitis B becomes chronic and stays in the person's blood forever. Hepatitis B can cause the same symptoms as hepatitis A, but many infected people do not have any symptoms after infection. Though hepatitis B is very often silent in the earlier stages, the risk of liver cirrhosis is very real. This scarring of the liver can result in liver failure and thus death. Hepatitis B can be transmitted sexually, through contract with infected blood (if you are a healthcare worker, for instance), or from mom to baby during labor and birth. It is enormously important to be tested for hepatitis B during pregnancy, as timely interventions can reduce the risk of transmission very significantly. Administering hep B immune globulin and the first dose of the hepatitis B vaccine to a newborn within 12 hours of birth will give the baby a 90 percent chance of being protected from a chronic hep B infection. On the other hand, babies that do not receive this crucial help have a 95 percent risk of ending up with a serious life-long disease.

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C causes chronic liver disease in 70 percent of infected persons, and there is no vaccine for it at present. Though hepatitis C can be transmitted through sexual contact, transmission through blood contact is much more common. Drug users sharing IV needles is the most frequent manner in which hepatitis C is spread. Women who have been tattooed or pierced in unhygienic conditions or those who work in healthcare can be at risk of hepatitis C as well. The same goes for women whose partner has used IV drugs. Research is still very much ongoing about the best way to handle hepatitis C during pregnancy.

The risk of maternal to fetal transmission is much lower than with hepatitis B, at between one and five percent. But newly infected pregnant women have a very high chance of developing chronic hepatitis C. Some studies were carried out into the merits of treatment with interferon during pregnancy for this reason. Women who tested Hep C positive during their pregnancy should discuss their options with their healthcare team very, very carefully.

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