Viral hepatitis includes hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E. A different virus is responsible for each type of virally transmitted hepatitis.
How common is viral hepatitis?
Viral hepatitis is extremely common. It can affect patients at any age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Hepatitis A affects women and men in similar ways. Hepatitis B affects women differently than men. Hepatitis C affects women differently than men. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of viral hepatitis?
The symptoms of viral hepatitis are similar for all types of hepatitis. They include:
- Low-grade fever (a temperature between 37.5°C and 38.3°C)
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Loss of appetite
- Upset stomach
- Stomach pain
- Dark urine
- Clay-colored bowel movements
- Joint pain
- Jaundice, which is when the skin and whites of the eyes turn yellow
People who are newly infected are most likely to have one or more of these symptoms, but some people with viral hepatitis do not have any symptoms. New hepatitis A infections usually cause symptoms, but as many as half the people with new hepatitis B and hepatitis C infections do not have symptoms.
Certain blood tests can show if you have hepatitis, even if you do not have symptoms. People with chronic hepatitis B or C often develop symptoms when their liver becomes damaged.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you or your loved one has any signs or symptoms listed above or you have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes viral hepatitis?
Hepatitis A is caused by an infection with the hepatitis A virus (HAV). This type of hepatitis is most commonly transmitted by consuming food or water contaminated by feces from a person infected with hepatitis A.
Hepatitis B is transmitted through contact with infectious body fluids, such as blood, vaginal secretions, or semen, containing the hepatitis B virus (HBV). Injection drug use, having sex with an infected partner, or sharing razors with an infected person increase your risk of getting hepatitis B.
It’s estimated by the CDC that 1.2 million people in the United States and 350 million people worldwide live with this chronic disease.
Hepatitis C comes from the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Hepatitis C is transmitted through direct contact with infected body fluids, typically through injection drug use and sexual contact. HCV is among the most common bloodborne viral infections in the United States. Approximately 2.7 to 3.9 million Americans are currently living with a chronic form of this infection.
Also called delta hepatitis, hepatitis D is a serious liver disease caused by the hepatitis D virus (HDV). HDV is contracted through direct contact with infected blood. Hepatitis D is a rare form of hepatitis that only occurs in conjunction with hepatitis B infection. The hepatitis D virus can’t multiply without the presence of hepatitis B. It’s very uncommon in the United States.
Hepatitis E is a waterborne disease caused by the hepatitis E virus (HEV). Hepatitis E is mainly found in areas with poor sanitation and typically results from ingesting fecal matter that contaminates the water supply. This disease is uncommon in the United States. However, cases of hepatitis E have been reported in the Middle East, Asia, Central America, and Africa, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
What increases my risk for viral hepatitis?
Please consult with your doctor for further information.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is viral hepatitis diagnosed?
History and physical exam
To diagnose hepatitis, first your doctor will take your history to determine any risk factors you may have for infectious or noninfectious hepatitis.
During a physical examination, your doctor may press down gently on your abdomen to see if there’s pain or tenderness. Your doctor may also feel to see if your liver is enlarged. If your skin or eyes are yellow, your doctor will note this during the exam.
Liver function tests
Liver function tests use blood samples to determine how efficiently your liver works. Abnormal results of these tests may be the first indication that there is a problem, especially if you don’t show any signs on a physical exam of liver disease. High liver enzyme levels may indicate that your liver is stressed, damaged, or not functioning properly.
Other blood tests
If your liver function tests are abnormal, your doctor will likely order other blood tests to detect the source of the problem. These tests can check for the viruses that cause hepatitis. They can also be used to check for antibodies that are common in conditions like autoimmune hepatitis.
An abdominal ultrasound uses ultrasound waves to create an image of the organs within your abdomen. This test allows your doctor to take a close at your liver and nearby organs. It can reveal:
- Fluid in your abdomen
- Liver damage or enlargement
- Liver tumors
- Abnormalities of your gallbladder
Sometimes the pancreas shows up on ultrasound images as well. This can be a useful test in determining the cause of your abnormal liver function.
A liver biopsy is an invasive procedure that involves your doctor taking a sample of tissue from your liver. It can be done through your skin with a needle and doesn’t require surgery. Typically, an ultrasound is used to guide your doctor when taking the biopsy sample.
This test allows your doctor to determine how infection or inflammation has affected your liver. It can also be used to sample any areas in your liver that appear abnormal.
How is viral hepatitis treated?
Some types and cases of hepatitis can heal without intervention, but sometimes it can progress to scarring of the liver, or cirrhosis.
There is no specific treatment for HAV. The doctor will advise the patient to abstain from alcohol and drugs during the recovery. Most patients with hepatitis A will recover without intervention.
A patient with HBV needs to rest and abstain completely from alcohol. The doctor may prescribe an antiviral agent called interferon, or other antiviral suppressive therapies.
A patient with hepatitis C will be prescribed antiviral agents, with or without ribavirin.
Some directed antivirals and combination therapies are now available to treat the hepatitis C virus based on its subtype. These treatments target viral replication and prevent the virus from being able to reproduce. When taken correctly, the cure rate is very high.
These medications can be expensive, and insurers may have specific criteria for treatment.
No antiviral medications exist for the treatment of hepatitis D at this time. According to a 2013 study, a drug called alpha interferon can be used to treat hepatitis D, but it only shows improvement in about 25 to 30 percent of people.
Hepatitis D can be prevented by getting the vaccination for hepatitis B, as infection with hepatitis B is necessary for hepatitis D to develop.
Currently, no specific medical therapies are available to treat hepatitis E. Because the infection is often acute, it typically resolves on its own. People with this type of infection are often advised to get adequate rest, drink plenty of fluids, get enough nutrients, and avoid alcohol. However, pregnant women who develop this infection require close monitoring and care.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me prevent viral hepatitis?
Practicing good hygiene is one key way to avoid contracting hepatitis A and E. If you’re traveling to a developing country, you should avoid:
- Local water
- Raw or undercooked shellfish and oysters
- Raw fruit and vegetables
Hepatitis B, C, and D contracted through contaminated blood can be prevented by:
- Not sharing drug needles
- Not sharing razors
- Not using someone else’s toothbrush
- Not touching spilled blood
Hepatitis B and C can also be contracted through sexual intercourse and intimate sexual contact. Practicing safe sex by using condoms and dental dams can help decrease the risk of infection. You can find many options available for purchase online.
The use of vaccines is an important key to preventing hepatitis. Vaccinations are available to prevent the development of hepatitis A and B. Experts are currently developing vaccines against hepatitis C. A vaccination for hepatitis E exists in China, but it isn’t available in the United States.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.