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What are the Different Types of Viral Hepatitis?

Friday 23 October 2020
Infections

Table of Contents


I. The Importance of the Liver

II. Hepatitis A

a. Hep A Symptoms

III. Hepatitis B

a. Hep B Symptoms

IV. Hepatitis C

a. Hep C Symptoms

V. Hepatitis D & E

VI. Treatments


The Importance of the Liver

Millions of Americans are currently living with viral hepatitis, many of which are unaware they have the condition. There are several different types of hepatitis, but all of them involve inflammation of the liver. Viral hepatitis types like hepatitis A and C are some of the most common because they are highly contagious. Some forms of hepatitis clear up on their own, but others may require antiviral medications like ledipasvir/sofosbuvir (Harvoni), Viread (tenofovir), Rebetol (ribavirin), or Hepsera (adefovir dipivoxil).

Inflammation of the liver should be prevented at all costs because the liver is an essential organ in the body. The liver is located in the right upper area of the abdomen and performs the following functions for the body:

  • Filters toxins from the body
  • Creates bile to aid in digestion
  • Breaks down fats, proteins, and carbohydrates
  • Synthesizes blood proteins
  • Stores essential sugars, minerals, and vitamins A, D, E, and K
  • Excretes broken-down red blood cells, cholesterol, hormones, and drugs

There are five main types of viral hepatitis. Each one has its symptoms and mode of transmission. Read on to learn more about the symptoms and treatment options for viral hepatitis. [1]

a diagram of the liver location in the body

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A (HAV) is one form of hepatitis that is often avoided with the proper vaccinations. All children in the United States receive this vaccination as infants, but you may need to get a booster vaccine every 20 years or so. [2]

This virus is transmitted through close person-to-person contact. Most commonly, hepatitis A is transmitted by consuming foods or water contaminated with feces of a person infected with the virus. This virus can also occur with sexual contact. You are at a higher risk of contracting this type of hepatitis if you:

  • Travel internationally
  • Are experiencing homelessness
  • Are a man who has sex with men
  • Use injection or non-injection drugs
  • Live with chronic liver disease
  • Live with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) [2]

a. Hep A Symptoms

Depending on the environment, the hepatitis A virus can live outside of the body for months. The risk for this virus is lower in the United States because of adequate chlorination of water supplies. Symptoms of HAV may last for up to two months, but this disease may relapse several times over six months. Common symptoms of HAV include:

  • Fatigue and malaise
  • Loss of appetite
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever [3] 

Hepatitis B

In the case of hepatitis B (HBV), the virus is transmitted mainly through contact with infectious bodily fluids. These fluids may include vaginal secretions, semen, and blood. The use of injectable drugs or having sex with someone who has contracted HBV can increase your risk. Other modes of transmission can include sharing razors with an infected person and pregnant women with HBV passing it to their babies during childbirth. Around 1.2 million people in the U.S. have HBV, and there are 350 million people across the world living with this virus. [1]

Unlike other forms of hepatitis, HBV may become chronic and last for longer than six months. Acute hepatitis can last for less than six months and clears up on its own in most cases. But it can linger in your system and cause severe side effects and complications. Because of this, it is essential to stay up to date on your HBV vaccinations and get the proper vaccinations before traveling outside of the country.

a red razor on a blue background

a. Hep B Symptoms

The symptoms of hepatitis B may be mild or severe, depending on your specific case. Side effects of the virus may appear one to four months after the initial infection. Some people, like young children, may present no symptoms at all. Common symptoms can include:

  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Jaundice
  • Nausea
  • Joint pain
  • Fever
  • Dark urine
  • Abdominal pain [4]

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C (HCV) is similar to hepatitis B because they are transmitted in similar ways. Sexual contact with an infected person and intravenous drug use are the two most common modes of transmission. The difference between the two is that HCV is much more likely to turn into a chronic form of liver inflammation. The chronic form of HCV affects anywhere from 2.7 to 3.9 million Americans, making it one of the most common bloodborne viral infections in the U.S. [1] 

Back in the day, hepatitis C treatment was intensive and required weekly injections to prevent severe liver problems. Today, there are many treatment options, and this virus can be curable if you take the proper oral medications every day for two to six months.

a. Hep C Symptoms

Many people with HCV can be infected for years without presenting symptoms. Symptoms may spring up once HCV is already chronic, creating potentially dangerous health problems. Common symptoms can include:

  • Poor appetite
  • Swelling in the legs
  • Itchy skin
  • Confusion, drowsiness, slurred speech
  • Bleeding easily
  • Bruising easily
  • Jaundice
  • Itchy skin [5]

Hepatitis D & E

These two hepatitis conditions are not common in the United States. Hepatitis D, also known as delta hepatitis, is a rare form of this virus contracted through infected blood. This type cannot proliferate without the presence of hepatitis B as well. Hepatitis D can also become chronic and cause liver scarring and cancer. It is most common in South Africa, Central Asia, the Mediterranean, the Pacific Islands, Russia, and West Africa. [6]

Hepatitis E does not occur regularly in the United States, but it is important to be aware of if you travel outside of the country often. This type is waterborne and is found in areas with poor sanitation. It is contracted when you consume fecal matter in the water supply. It is most common in the Middle East, Asia, Central America, and Africa. [1]

a water tank in the middle of a barren field

Treatment

Hepatitis conditions can vary greatly in terms of symptom severity. Like every medical condition, early detection will benefit your long-term treatment plan. As mentioned earlier, the immune system will typically clear up hepatitis A on its own. If you have been diagnosed with hepatitis A and are still experiencing symptoms after several months, you should seek your doctor.

Hepatitis B and C have a higher likelihood of becoming chronic, so several medications are available to prevent complications. Hepatitis C can be treated with antiviral medications that can help clear the virus from the body. One drug, ledipasvir/sofosbuvir (Harvoni), is a new medication approved to treat hepatitis C. It is a combination pill that works by interfering with the protein needed to replicate HCV in the body. So far, it has been shown to cure up to 99 percent of HCV patients who take it for three months. [7]

Viread (tenofovir) and Hepsera (adefovir dipivoxil) are drugs used for chronic hepatitis B infections. Viread is also used to treat HIV infections, decreasing the amount of HIV as well as HBV in the blood. It does not cure hepatitis but can lessen symptoms. Hepsera also does not cure hepatitis B but can treat long-term HBV infections and decrease the amount of the virus in the blood. Your doctor will prescribe the right medication for you. [8]

The content in this article is intended for informational purposes only. This website does not provide medical advice. In all circumstances, you should always seek the advice of your physician and/or other qualified health professionals(s) for drug, medical condition, or treatment advice. The content provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.