You’ve probably only heard about hepatitis B and C because they are the most common in the United States. But did you know there are 5 main hepatitis viruses: A, B, C, D, and E? All of the viruses cause liver disease, so what’s the difference between them? Not only are they caused by different strains of hepatitis, some are transmitted in different ways. Which one can you get from getting a tattoo? Which one can you get from contaminated water? Let’s take a look at some of the characteristics of each one.
Hepatitis A Virus (HAV)
How Does Hepatitis A Spread? Hepatitis A is found in the feces of infected people and often spreads through contaminated food or water. It can also be spread through certain sex practices.
Prognosis: Although some cases of Hep A can be severe and life-threatening, most cases are mild and people are able to recover fully.
Are Vaccines Available? YES
Hepatitis B Virus (HBV)
How Does Hepatitis B Spread? Hep B is spread through bodily fluids including infected blood and semen. This includes mother-to-child transmission during gestation,, transfusions, contaminated injections during a medical procedure, needle stick injuries, and intravenous drug use.
Prognosis: Hep B is an acute infection which only stays in the system for about one to three months. The infection usually resolves without treatment and most adults recover completely.
Are Vaccines Available? YES
Hepatitis C (HCV)
How Does Hepatitis C Spread? Hep C is commonly transmitted through exposure to infected blood. Common causes of transmission are similar to Hep B, including blood transfusions, contaminated injections, and intravenous drug use. If you were wondering about tattoos, studies have found that they do increase the risk of Hep C. Hep C can also be spread through sexual intercouse, but it is not likely.
Prognosis: About 5 to 20 percent of people with chronic HCV will develop cirrhosis, which typically takes about 20-30 years to develop. Because treatment options are limited for cirrhosis and liver cancer, they cause about 1 to 5 percent of HCV-related deaths.
Are Vaccines Available? NO
Hepatitis D (HDV)
How Does Hepatitis D Spread? Only those infected with Hepatitis B can become infected with Hepatitis D. That’s because Hep D is an incomplete virus that needs the help of HBV to replicate.
Prognosis: Having both HDV and HBV can result in a more serious disease and worse outcome. But it all depends on how long the person has been infected with Hep B. The infection may go away on its own, but if it lasts for six months or longer, the condition is known as chronic hepatitis D. As the virus presents itself in the body for several months, symptoms will start to show and the chances of complications increase. Many people with the condition eventually develop cirrhosis.
Are Vaccines Available? There is no vaccine for Hep D, but the vaccine for Hep B should prevent development of Hep D in people who are not yet infected.
Hepatitis E (HEV)
How Does Hepatitis E Spread? Hep E is mostly transmitted through consuming contaminated water or food. Infections and outbreaks usually occur in developing parts of the world.
Prognosis: Although Hep E can lead to acute liver failure and death, most cases are mild and go away on their own.
Are Vaccines Available? YES, but not widely available
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