Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis has many possible causes, but it commonly occurs due to a virus. Viral hepatitis is a leading cause of liver disease worldwide. At least five different viruses can cause hepatitis:
- Hepatitis A virus (HAV)
- Hepatitis B virus
- Hepatitis C virus (HCV)
- Hepatitis D virus
- Hepatitis E virus
These viruses have similar symptoms. Some forms of the virus can become chronic and lead to life-threatening complications. Other symptoms resolve without any specific treatment.
The most common types of hepatitis are HAV and HCV. HAV is the most common form of viral hepatitis. About 1.5 million people contract HAV each year globally. About 130-150 million people worldwide are living with HCV.
These two types of hepatitis have things in common, but they also have distinct differences.
What are the Common Symptoms of HAV and HCV?
HAV has an incubation period of 15-50 days. In most cases, the symptoms begin around the 30th day. HCV has an incubation period of 14-80 days, but the symptoms become noticeable after about 45 days on average.
The symptoms of hepatitis A and C are similar. They include:
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
- Joint pain
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes
HAV causes a minor infection. The symptoms may last a few weeks or months but HAV never becomes chronic.
HCV can also be an acute infection. When HCV lasts more than six months, doctors consider it to be a chronic condition that can cause serious complications. Over 20 to 30 years, chronic HCV can cause scarring of the liver or cirrhosis. Scarring of the liver makes it difficult for your liver to do its job. HCV increases your risk of developing liver cancer or liver failure. The symptoms are generally worse for people with HIV.
How are They Transmitted?
HAV is found in fecal matter. It can be transmitted when you consume contaminated food or water. HAV can also be spread from sexual contact with an infected person. You are at an increased risk of HAV when traveling to areas with poor sanitation and high rates of HAV. HAV is more common in Africa, Asia, and Central and South America. HAV rates of infection are much lower in:
- North America
- Western Europe
HCV can be transmitted through contact with an infected person’s blood, although the exact cause of infection can’t be identified in many cases. IV drug users who share needles are at a particularly high risk of infection. Between 50-90% of HIV-infected IV drug users also have HCV. HCV can be transmitted through sexual contact or from an infected mother passing the virus to her baby during childbirth.
The risk of getting HCV through a blood transfusion or a donated organ is low in the United States. Screening methods in the U.S. have improved since the 1990s. HCV can’t be transmitted through food, water, or breast milk. You can’t get HCV through casual contact with an infected person.
How is it Diagnosed?
A blood test called a hepatitis viral panel can identify hepatitis antibodies in your blood. The test can tell you if you were recently infected with HAV, had an HAV infection in the past, or have immunity to HAV.
HCV antibodies can typically be identified between four and ten weeks after being infected. If you test positive for HCV, your doctor might order a second test. Some people can clear an HCV infection without treatment. Some people might still have antibodies in their blood. Additional testing may indicate a chronic infection and the need for treatment.
If you test positive for chronic HCV, you’ll likely need further testing to see if any damage to your liver has occurred.