Differences in Viral Hepatitis Types and What It Means for Your Health
Hepatitis is the general inflammation of the liver. This liver inflammation is most commonly caused by viral hepatitis (although other infections, diseases, or substances like alcohol and drugs can also cause hepatitis), which is thought to affect over 400 million people worldwide. Viral hepatitis is divided into five major types of viral strains, with the most common strains bring A, B, and C.
What They Have in Common
A few facts about what these types of viral hepatitis have in common:
- The virus types generally develop into acute hepatitis but B and C-types can develop into a chronic condition which requires long-term treatment
- Symptoms may or may not develop yet still cause liver damage
- All virus types do share the same symptoms in acute hepatitis, such as fever, fatigue, jaundice, dark urine, light-colored stools, and flu-like symptoms
Hepatitis A (HAV)
Hepatitis A is spread through contact with human fecal matter. HAV is most commonly spread orally through the consumption of fecally contaminated food and drinking water. Contraction of HAV often occurs while traveling internationally to undeveloped areas. Although this is the most common way to become infected, there is also a chance of infection through intimate contact with an infected individual.
There is a vaccination to help prevent contracting the virus, so high-risk groups should consider getting vaccinated. You are included in this high-risk group if you:
- Travel to countries besides the US, Canada, Japan, Western Europe, Australia, or New Zealand
- Engage in high-risk activities such as street drug-use or unprotected sexual encounters
- Have chronic liver disease
- Work in a laboratory that deals with HAV
Hepatitis A often has an incubation period of 15-50 days and is considered acute. Unlike the other types of the virus, Hepatitis A does not become a chronic infection. Instead, the onset of symptoms is temporary and those infected usually “get over” the infection, much like one would the cold or flu. There have been incidence of deaths, but they are rare.
Hepatitis B (HBV)
Hepatitis B is the leading cause of liver cirrhosis worldwide. It is estimated that about 2 million Americans are currently infected with HBV. Contraction of HBV is spread through contact with an infected person’s blood or semen, mainly through contact with open cuts or sores, the sharing of needles during drug-use, unprotected sexual contact, or during childbirth (from infected mother to child).
Getting vaccinated is the best way to ensure that you do not become infected. Consider if you meet any of the above high-risk groups.
Hepatitis B symptoms typically are acute and usually appear around 45 days to six months after infection. About 70 percent of individuals have no symptoms with HBV infection, so there is a chance you could have the virus and never know. For the majority of adults and older children, HBV typically clears from the body after initial symptoms are produced. However, about 6 percent of adults and 30 percent of children will develop chronic HBV. That chance increases to 90% for infants. Patients who develop chronic HBV are at a higher risk of developing cirrhosis, liver failure, and liver cancer and should seek treatment and therapy.
Hepatitis C (HCV)
Hepatitis C is the most common, chronic blood-borne viral infection in the U.S. (It is currently estimated that about 2.7 million people in the United States have chronic HCV). The virus is usually spread through direct contact with the blood of a person who has the disease. HCV wasn’t detectable through testing until 1992, so individuals who received blood transfusions or organ donations before 1992 may have HCV. In fact, the baby boomer generation is significantly affected and the CDC now recommends blood testing for everyone over 50. HCV should be tested for as well if you have shared needles during drug use, have a tattoo or piercing, utilized unsterile medical instruments, or have been exposed to an infected individual’s blood.
HCV is often thought of as a silent killer since the infection usually produces no symptoms at all during the early stages. In fact, most who have HCV don’t know they have it until liver damage shows up years later during medical testing. HCV infection can be acute in some cases, but about 85% of infected individuals will develop chronic HCV.
There has been a breakthrough in the treatment of hepatitis C over the last decade. Treatments are simplified, with minimal side effects and over 98% viral eradication rates.
If you are over the age of 50, have engaged in any high-risk activity that may involve possible contraction of hepatitis, or are showing symptoms related to the virus, please don’t hesitate to contact us for blood testing and treatment options. You can reach us at 281-746-9284 or request an appointment online. We are here to assist with all of your hepatology needs!