The five different kinds of hepatitis viruses can sometimes cause confusion. This article will help explain the differences between hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E.
Hepatitis is, in all cases, an inflammation of the liver which, if left untreated, may lead to liver failure and other complications. There are two main categories of hepatitis virus: acute and chronic. Acute hepatitis lasts up to six months, and chronic hepatitis lasts longer. The five different kinds of hepatitis (A, B, C, D, and E), refer to the different viruses that cause hepatitis.
Hepatitis A is caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). HAV is the virus found in the feces of infected individuals. Most commonly, HAV is spread by eating or drinking any food or drink that has been contaminated with the HAV virus. Contamination often occurs because of poor hygiene and sanitation practices, such as not washing one’s hands or not properly cooking food. Symptoms of hepatitis A can include nausea, diarrhea, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes; pictured below), and fever. Infections of hepatitis A can lead to liver failure, but usually resolve without any treatment needed. Hepatitis A can be prevented via vaccination.
Hepatitis B is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). HBV is found in the blood or bodily fluids of infected individuals, and is spread through unprotected sexual intercourse, transfusions of infected blood, unsterilized medical equipment, unsterilized tattoo equipment, or sharing needles for the use of intravenous drugs. Symptoms of hepatitis B include fever, vomiting, dark urine, and jaundice. The symptoms of hepatitis B usually resolve within a few weeks, but in some cases can lead to severe liver damage. Hepatitis B is preventable via vaccination, as well as through safe sexual practices and not sharing needles for drug use.
Hepatitis C is caused by the hepatitis C virus. HCV is found in the blood of infected individuals. It is most commonly spread through sharing needles for drug use, poorly sterilized medical or tattoo equipment, and transfusions of infected blood. Hepatitis C is known to be asymptomatic, meaning there will be no symptoms indicating infection. If there are symptoms, they are usually mild, e.g. fatigue and nausea. Close to 80% of those infected with hepatitis C develop chronic illness, which eventually leads to cirrhosis, or poor functioning of the liver. The abdomen of an individual suffering from cirrhosis is pictured below. There is no known vaccine for hepatitis C prevention, but there is medication that treats hepatitis C with varying degrees of success. Hepatitis C can be prevented by screening blood donors or not using infected needles.
Hepatitis D, caused by the hepatitis D virus, is only found in individuals already infected with Hepatitis B, and therefore has the same methods of transmission as hepatitis B. Symptoms of hepatitis D include those of hepatitis B, but often involve more severe complications such as cirrhosis and liver cancer. Hepatitis D is notorious for the high fatality rate it causes. Hepatitis D can be prevented with the hepatitis B vaccine.
Hepatitis E, caused by the hepatitis E virus, is found in the feces of infected individuals, but is most commonly transmitted through infected water sources. Hepatitis E occurs more in the developing world due to unclean water sources. Symptoms of hepatitis E can include jaundice, fatigue, and nausea. Hepatitis E is comparable to hepatitis A and usually resolves itself after a few weeks. Hepatitis E is most often an acute infection, but in some cases can lead to chronic infection. Hepatitis E does, however, affect pregnant women more severely. There is no vaccine that is widely available, but a vaccine has been approved for use in China.
- Method of transmission
- Availability of a vaccine
- Severity of symptoms
Hepatitis A is found in the feces of infected individuals, and is often spread through contaminated food or drink. Hepatitis B is found in the blood and bodily fluids of infected individuals, and is spread through unprotected sex, or contact (such as through blood transfusions or tattoo needles; contact with skin will not necessarily result in infection) with infected blood. Hepatitis C is found only in the blood of infected individuals, and is therefore also spread through contact with infected blood. Hepatitis D is only found in those infected with hepatitis B, and is therefore also spread through blood and bodily fluids. Hepatitis E is also found in the feces of infected individuals, but is more often spread through contaminated water sources.
Vaccines are available for hepatitis A, B, and D, no vaccine is available for hepatitis C, and while no widely-used vaccine is available for hepatitis E, a vaccine is approved for use in China.
Hepatitis A, B, and E have visible symptoms, and usually resolve themselves without additional treatment. They can, however, lead to liver failure, and hepatitis E is known to be more severe in pregnant women. Hepatitis C is often asymptomatic, but commonly leads to chronic disease which subsequently can lead to cirrhosis. Hepatitis D has the same symptoms as hepatitis B, but further complications can develop which lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer.
The below video explains some of the differences between hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E.