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Conditions InDepth: Viral Hepatitis

Viral hepatitis is a liver infection. It is caused by 5 different viruses. These are:

Hepatitis

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Hepatitis A

It is caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). HAV is linked to poor sanitation, raw sewage, untreated water, and poor hygiene. It is passed from stool to mouth. This can happen by:

  • Eating or drinking anything contaminated with HAV such as shellfish or raw vegetables (even if they are frozen)
  • Poor hand washing—especially after changing a diaper or using the bathroom
  • Caring for someone who is sick
  • Anal, or oral to anal sex

Hepatitis A goes away on its own. The immune system gives lifetime protection against HAV after recovery.

Hepatitis B

It is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). HBV is spread by contact with bodily fluids from someone who has or carries it. This includes blood, semen, vaginal fluids, and saliva. This can happen by:

  • Having sex
  • Using IV drugs or sharing needles
  • Getting blood transfusions
  • Giving birth—A woman with HBV can pass to the baby during childbirth
  • Sharing toothbrushes, razors, nail clippers, or other personal hygiene items
  • Having a job that involves contact with bodily fluids such as healthcare

In most people, hepatitis B goes away on its own. It can lead to a long-term infection with more serious complications.

Hepatitis C

It is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). It is spread through contact with contaminated blood. This can happen by:

  • Using IV drugs or sharing needles
  • Having a job that involves contact with blood such as healthcare
  • Getting blood products or an organ transplant, or through other medical treatments
  • Having sex
  • Giving birth—A woman with HCV can pass to the baby during childbirth

Hepatitis C goes away on its own in some people. But in most cases, it is long-term infection with more serious complications.

Hepatitis D

It is caused by the hepatitis D virus (HDV). It only happens in people who have hepatitis B and is spread by:

  • Using IV drugs or sharing needles
  • Having a job that involves contact with blood such as healthcare
  • Having sex

Hepatitis E

It is caused by the hepatitis E virus (HEV). HEV is linked to untreated drinking water. It is passed by stool to mouth contact. This can happen by:

  • Drinking contaminated water—most common
  • Eating or drinking anything contaminated with HEV
  • Eating raw or partially cooked shellfish or meat contaminated with HEV
  • Giving birth—A woman with HEV can pass to the baby during childbirth

Hepatitis E goes away on its own. Hepatitis E rare in the US, but is common in countries with a poor water supply.

Complications of hepatitis include chronic liver disease, liver cancer, or liver failure.

REFERENCES:

Acute hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T913216/Acute-hepatitis-B-virus-HBV-infection. Updated May 14, 2018. Accessed April 18, 2019.

Acute hepatitis C infection. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T413896/Acute-hepatitis-C-infection. Updated November 15, 2018. Accessed April 18, 2019.

Chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115624/Chronic-hepatitis-B-virus-HBV-infection. Updated May 14, 2018. Accessed April 18, 2019.

Chronic hepatitis C infection. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115157/Chronic-hepatitis-C-infection. Updated January 31, 2019. Accessed April 18, 2019.

Hepatitis C—treatment of genotype 1. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T908659/Hepatitis-C-treatment-of-genotype-1. Updated December 2, 2018. Accessed April 18, 2019.

Hepatitis C—treatment of genotypes 2-6. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T906076/Hepatitis-C-treatment-of-genotypes-2-6. Updated December 2, 2018. Accessed April 18, 2019.

Hepatitis D virus (HDV) infection. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T233684/Hepatitis-D-virus-HDV-infection. Updated May 14, 2018. Accessed April 18, 2019.

Hepatitis E virus (HEV) infection. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116562/Hepatitis-E-virus-HEV-infection. Updated February 28, 2018. Accessed April 18, 2019.

Overview of acute viral hepatitis. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/hepatic-and-biliary-disorders/hepatitis/overview-of-acute-viral-hepatitis. Updated January 2019. Accessed April 18, 2019.

Overview of chronic hepatitis. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/hepatic-and-biliary-disorders/hepatitis/overview-of-chronic-hepatitis. Updated January 2019. Accessed April 18, 2019.

Last reviewed February 2019 by David L. Horn, MD, FACP  Last Updated: 4/18/2019