Sydney is a contributing health writer and editor who enjoys shedding light on health topics, making information available to anyone who wants it, and ending stigmas or lack of access to care and treatment.
Po-Chang Hsu, M.D.
Dr. Hsu received his medical degree from Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts, and holds a Master’s of Science degree from both Harvard University and Tufts University. Outside of the medical profession, Dr. Hsu loves to write, learn new languages, and travel.
May 6, 2021
Hepatitis is a general term for an inflammation of the liver. There are five primary types, each denoted by a letter that corresponds to the type of virus that causes the issue:
These are known as the primary viruses, and in some cases, over time, they can cause extensive damage to the liver. Out of all different forms of hepatitis, A, B, and C are the most common strains.
Any form of hepatitis can lead to a compromised liver; the consequences can range from mild to very severe.
Hepatitis A is mostly transmitted through contaminated water or food or through contact with the blood of someone who has the virus (usually through unsafe sex or the sharing of needles). Poor hygiene can also make you more prone to contracting hepatitis A.
Symptoms usually arrive within two to four weeks after exposure. Some infected people may not show any symptoms at all, but possible symptoms of hepatitis A include:
There is no treatment for hepatitis A, and recovery can take a while. Be certain to talk to your doctor about medications to avoid if you’re infected.
There is a vaccine for hepatitis A.
Hepatitis B is most often transmitted during birth or with direct contact from another infected person through blood or other bodily fluids. Intravenous drug use and even tattoos and piercings can infect a person. Again, some people who are infected may not know they have the disease.
Hepatitis B has many of the same symptoms as other strains, and in severe form, can cause liver failure. It can also become a chronic condition that requires long-term treatment.
Prevention Policy Manager at the Hepatitis B Foundation, Michaela Jackson, says, “Nearly 300 million people around the world are living with chronic hepatitis B, yet most do not know they are infected. Globally, the virus is responsible for up to 60% of all primary liver cancer cases, and for 66% of all viral hepatitis deaths.”
Hepatitis B has very similar symptoms as type A (if they do present), and like hepatitis A there is an effective vaccine against hepatitis B. There is even a combination vaccination option now available that protects people against hepatitis A and B.
Hepatitis C is transmitted through the blood, so everything from unsafe sex to transfusions to needles can transmit the disease. Children can contract it from their mothers during childbirth. Its effects can also range from mild illness to long-term and chronic diseases, and it shares the same symptoms with the different types of hepatitis.
Additional symptoms include joint pain and a greyish skin color.
Over time, hepatitis C can cause liver cancer, scarring of the liver (cirrhosis), and liver failure.
Hepatitis C is the deadliest form of hepatitis. Testing and treatments have improved dramatically over the years. If you think you’ve been infected, it is essential to get a blood test—80 percent of those who get hepatitis C don’t get sick, but they can still infect others.
Hepatitis D requires another form of virus, B, to affect a person. It essentially “piggybacks” on a hepatitis B infection to cause a superinfection. While there is no treatment, the hepatitis B vaccine has helped drive down rates globally.
The risk factors for D are the same as B and C, and when coupled with an already existing hepatitis B infection, the virus can become deadlier much faster.
This “superinfection” causes life-threatening diseases like cirrhosis and cancer to arrive more quickly in seventy to ninety percent of hepatitis B patients.
The rarest form of the disease in the United States, hepatitis E, is most often found in water sources contaminated with an infected person’s fecal matter. The disease usually shows up in countries and regions that lack access to clean water or basic hygiene. This could include:
In the U.S., some people have contracted hepatitis E from raw or undercooked shellfish, venison, wild boar—or they have contracted it during trips to less developed countries.
Symptoms of hepatitis E are similar to the rest of the viral family, and most people recover fully. Many people, especially young children, show no symptoms at all.
There is no vaccine for hepatitis E.
Although doctors and scientists have made great progress in testing and treating all forms of hepatitis, the disease—no matter the strain—is dangerous. Some practices to avoid getting infected:
If you find yourself exhibiting the primary symptoms of hepatitis infection, see your doctor and get tested right away. If you think you may have been exposed, do the same.
Online doctors can perform initial consultations and follow-up appointments from anywhere in the country, often in a more affordable manner than an in-person doctor. Telehealth is becoming an increasingly common method for healthcare in the modern world. Through our sister site PlushCare, you can make an appointment with top board-certified physicians and get more answers and advice about the different types of hepatitis.
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