Viral hepatitis: Types, symptoms, treatment, and prevention

Hepatitis refers to an inflammation of the liver cells and damage to the liver. There are different types and causes, but the symptoms can be similar.

The liver’s functions include detoxifying the blood, storing vitamins, and producing hormones. Hepatitis can disrupt these processes and create severe health problems throughout the body.

At least five viruses can cause hepatitis. The three most common are hepatitis viruses A, B and C. Infection with any of these three can be fatal.

Other types of hepatitis can result from overconsumption of alcohol or an autoimmune condition. This article will look at hepatitis A, B, and C. These are forms of hepatitis transmitted by a virus.

In the United States, the incidence of hepatitis A has been falling for the last 20 years, but acute hepatitis C has seen an increase of 44 percent between 2011 and 2012.


Hepatitis has several different types, but the symptoms of each are similar. Hepatitis can take acute and chronic forms.

The three main types of hepatitis are known as hepatitis A, B, and C. Each is caused by a different virus. All three types can be acute, lasting for 6 months or less, and types B and C can be chronic, lasting for longer.

Each type has different characteristics and is transmitted in different ways, but symptoms tend to be similar.

Hepatitis A

In the United States (U.S.), 1,390 cases of hepatitis A were reported in 2015.

It is often mild, and most people make a full recovery, after which they are immune and therefore protected from the virus in the future. However, if it progresses, symptoms can be severe or life-threatening.

People in parts of the world with poor sanitation are particularly at risk of contracting HAV.

There are safe and effective vaccines that protect against this virus.

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Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B can be transmitted when a person:

has unprotected sexual intercourse with an infected person

shares a needle with an infected person, often for illegal drug or steroid use

has a tattoo created with unsterilized needles

is accidentally pricked, for example, health workers dealing with sharp objects

shares personal items, such as a toothbrush or razor, with an infected person

is bitten by someone who is infected

An infected mother can pass the virus on to her infant when breast-feeding.

The liver of a person infected with hepatitis B swells. Severe damage can result.

HBV infection can become chronic. This can lead to complications, including scarring of the liver, or cirrhosis. It can also cause a type of cancer known as hepatocellular carcinoma.

In 2015, 887,000 deaths worldwide were linked to HBV, mostly as a result of complications such as these.

In the U.S., there were 3,370 reported cases of HBV, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that the real figure may be around 21,900.

There is not currently a cure for HBV. However, the incidence rate has dropped in countries where the vaccine is available, and this vaccine is 95 percent effective against the infection.

There is a safe and effective vaccine that can protect against HBV.

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Hepatitis C

HCV can lead to liver damage and swelling. Around 1 in 4 people with HCV get cirrhosis, and this can lead to liver cancer.

Donated blood is now tested for HCV, but people who received organ transplants or blood donations before testing became part of the donation process may be at risk.

Other at-risk groups include healthcare workers who are exposed to sharps, users of intravenous drugs, and infants born to mothers with HCV.

The number of cases of HCV in the U.S. rose nearly threefold between 2010 and 2015 when 2,436 cases were reported. However, the CDC estimate that 33,900 infections occurred in 2015, including those not reported.

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There is no vaccine to prevent HCV, but treatment can cure it.


Some types and cases of hepatitis can heal without intervention, but sometimes it can progress to scarring of the liver, or cirrhosis.

Hepatitis A

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.

Hepatitis B

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.

Hepatitis C

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.

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