Can Viral Hepatitis During Pregnancy Cause a Miscarriage?

Pregnant woman having ultrasound scan
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In most cases, having viral hepatitis during pregnancy does not increase the risk of miscarriage or pregnancy loss. However, the infection can cause other complications, some potentially serious, in the long-term.

Hepatitis and Miscarriages

Infection with the hepatitis A, B, C, D or E virus causes viral hepatitis, which is marked by inflammation of the liver. Several studies have looked at the effects of hepatitis on pregnancy.

Usually, when a woman acquires hepatitis during her pregnancy, the infection runs its course without posing a risk of death to the mother or the fetus. In the third trimester, acute infection can increase the risk of preterm labor.

The big exception to the above is hepatitis E, which has a high mortality rate for both the mother and the developing baby. Hepatitis E is rare in the United States.

Other Health Effects

Although most viral hepatitis infections during pregnancy in the U.S. do not carry a risk of miscarriage or pregnancy loss, they are still a matter of concern.

In hepatitis B and hepatitis C, pregnant women may pass the virus along to their unborn baby.

In hepatitis B, there is as much as a 90 percent chance that the baby will acquire the virus when the mother becomes infected during her pregnancy. There's a 10 to 20 percent chance of this occurring when the mother has a preexisting chronic hepatitis B infection. Most babies that acquire hepatitis B from their mothers develop chronic infections, and 25 percent of them will die from cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer in adulthood. Because of the serious risks, all pregnant women should be screened for hepatitis B. Babies born to mothers with hepatitis B should receive immune globulin and hepatitis B vaccination within 12 hours of their birth to minimize the risks of chronic infection. All babies should be vaccinated against hepatitis B, regardless of whether or not their mother is infected.

In hepatitis C, the virus is passed to the baby in about 4 percent of cases. This risk is greater if the mother also has HIV. There is no vaccine against hepatitis C but doctors can take precautions during delivery to minimize the risks to the baby when the mother has hepatitis C.

Here are more useful facts about hepatitis infection during pregnancy:

  • Hepatitis A does not lead to chronic infections. There is a hepatitis A vaccine.
  • Hepatitis D is only able to infect individuals who already carry hepatitis B, so taking precautions to protect a baby against hepatitis B will also protect against hepatitis D.
  • Hepatitis E does not lead to chronic infections. There is no hepatitis E vaccine.
  • The method of delivery - vaginal vs c-section - does not affect the risk of an infected mother infecting her baby with hepatitis.

If you think you have symptoms of hepatitis or if you feel you are at risk for infection, speak to your doctor immediately about testing and treatment if needed.

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Article Sources

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