Viral Hepatitis – Types, Methods of Spread, Signs and Symptoms

What is Viral Hepatitis?

Hepatitis is the term for inflammation of the liver. It is caused either by an infection or due to some non-infectious conditions. There are different types of microorganisms, including viruses and bacteria, which may damage the liver and result in hepatitis. Viral hepatitis is inflammation of the liver which is caused by a virus. There are a number of types of viral hepatitis which are due to the difference in the structure and characteristics of these viruses.

Hepatitis A Virus (HAV)

Hepatitis A virus (HAV) is regarded as one of the most common causative agents of viral hepatitis. This virus is transmitted from consuming water or food like shellfish contaminated by sewage. Another possible route is through sexual contact (anal-oral contact).

The incubation period, which is the developmental phase once the virus enters the blood and starts affecting the liver, is around 28 days. In most of the cases, this virus is self-limiting, and in some cases, it can cause permanent liver failure.

Hepatitis B Virus (HBV)

Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is one of the more deadly hepatitis viruses. It is transmitted through blood products, unprotected sexual intercourse, or contact with the body fluids of an infected person, similar to HIV transmission. HBV is commonly seen in drug addicts, who share needles or syringes during IV drug use. Among health professionals, HBV infection may occur through needle-stick injuries and during surgical procedures.

The incubation period of HBV is between 30 and180 days and it may lead to end-stage liver failure or liver cancer. There are many individuals who develop chronic liver failure due to HBV infection.

Hepatitis C Virus (HCV)

Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is also transmitted through body fluids and may result in a potentially fatal liver infection. Blood transfusions, unprotected sexual intercourse, needle sharing and a needle-stick injury are potential modes of transmission of the the hepatitis C virus.

The incubation period is between 15 and 150 days. HCV is also linked to the development of liver cancer.

Hepatitis D Virus (HDV)

Hepatitis D virus (HDV) is a less common type of viral hepatitis and is usually transmitted along with HBV (co-infection). There are cases where HDV is transmitted to an already infected HBV patient (super infection). The route of transmission of this virus is similar to HBV.

The incubation period is around 35 days, and it may lead to liver failure.

Hepatitis E Virus (HEV)

Hepatitis E virus (HEV ) is transmitted through contaminated water and food like HAV, and it is also self limiting virus. However, long term infection may lead to end stage liver failure.

HEV may be transmitted from the mother to the fetus if a pregnant woman contracts the infection.

Hepatitis G Virus (HGV)

The heaptitis G virus was discovered in 1996, and it is associated with sudden (acute) and permanent (chronic) hepatitis. It is an uncommon type of viral hepatitis.

Signs and Symptoms of Viral Hepatitis

The signs and symptoms of viral hepatitis may vary and the diagnosis is sometimes missed in the early stages. It is at times only detected upon performing a liver function test (LFT).

Jaundice (yellow disocloration of the skin), dark urine and itchy skin are some of the first signs and symptoms. As the condition progresses to advanced liver failure, a swollen abdomen (ascites), difficulty digesting food, confusion, tiredness, increased body weight, and bloody vomiting may become evident.