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Published on July 28, 2022

The Differences Between Each Type of Hepatitis

man talking to doctor

By Cody Miller, EvergreenHealth Staff Writer

Hepatitis is inflammation of your liver, and it's most commonly caused by one of five viruses: hepatitis A, B, C, D or E.

Each virus is similar in multiple ways, but each has its own important differences.

What are the similarities between the viruses?

Hepatitis viruses infect tens of thousands of people every year. Additionally, all hepatitis viruses cause very similar symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine

No matter what type you of hepatitis you are diagnosed with, it's important to treat it as soon as possible.

A Breakdown of Hepatitis A, B, C, D & E

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A can be transmitted after ingesting food or fluids contaminated with the feces of an infected person. This most commonly occurs within families and other households where one person is infected and handles the food of others without washing their hands.

Most people who develop an acute infection recover without lasting damage, but the disease is potentially fatal for seniors and those with underlying liver disease. The best way to prevent hepatitis A infection is to get the vaccine, which can be administered as early as 12 months old.

Hepatitis B

The hepatitis B virus is mostly transmitted from mother to child at birth, but it can also spread through sexual contact or by sharing contaminated needles and syringes.

This acute infection is most common among infants and young children, but patients typically recover with no lasting liver damage, and the virus is rarely fatal, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The hepatitis B vaccine is the most effective way to prevent the spread of the disease. The first dose of a four-dose series can be administered within 24 hours of your child's birth.

Hepatitis C

The only hepatitis virus that is not vaccine-preventable, hepatitis C is transmitted through exposure to contaminated blood.

Various ways the virus is commonly transmitted include contaminated syringes, needles, unscreened blood transfusions and sexual practices that lead to the exposure of blood.

Chronic infection occurs in more than half of newly infected persons. Up to one-in-four will develop cirrhosis over 10-20 years, putting them at increased risk for liver cancer.

Check out Am I at Risk for Hep C? with Dr. Diego Lopez de Castilla, physician at EvergreenHealth Infectious Disease Care.

Hepatitis D & E

Hepatitis D only infects those with hepatitis B and can result in more serious disease and worse outcomes. A person can get hepatitis D at the same time as hepatitis B or get infected after first being infected with hepatitis B.

Hepatitis E is similar to hepatitis A in that it is transmitted through contaminated water and food, with outbreaks most commonly occurring in developing parts of the world. Vaccines exist for hepatitis E, but they are not always widely available.

Is hepatitis treatable?

Hepatitis treatment ultimately depends on which hepatitis virus you've been infected with. Hepatitis A and B have no specific medication, but infection is best addressed through supportive treatment.

If hepatitis B develops into a chronic infection, you should regularly monitor for signs of liver disease and ask your doctor about antiviral medications.

If you are infected with hepatitis C and require treatment, there are a variety of antiviral treatments for patients. For most patients, hepatitis C can be cured in just eight to 12 weeks of treatment.

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Schedule an appointment with EvergreenHealth Infectious Disease and Travel Medicine at (425) 899-5100 to learn more and see if you're at an increased risk. 

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