Although they all fall under the same hepatitis umbrella, the various strains of hepatitis are actually all quite different when it comes to the spreading of the virus, in addition to symptoms, treatment and prevention. hepatitis A, B, C, D and E have the potential to be debilitating – and even deadly – without the right treatment, so in this article we take a look at how each of these viruses work to give you a better idea of how they affect people.
Hepatitis A and B
Hepatitis A is spread primarily through faecal-oral routes, which means that the faecal matter containing the virus makes its way into another person’s mouth. Although this sounds like an unlikely possibility, in Australia it’s possible for transmission to occur through a wide variety of ways. For example, it could occur through the ingestion of contaminated food and drink or the use of contaminated eating utensils, coming into contact with soiled and contaminated nappies, toys or towels, through sexual routes (such as oral or anal contact), water or shellfish contaminated with infected sewage or through drug use. It is simple to prevent this with a hepatitis A vaccination, particularly before you know if you will travel to countries where hepatitis A is prevalent. Hepatitis B is spread through blood contact and sexual contact, making transmission possible through shared injecting tools, unprotected sex or tattooing or body piercing. In hepatitis B, acute infection will cause symptoms to develop in up to 50% of adults 2 to 3 months after infection, with chronic infection developing in 5% to 10% of adults and 30 to 50% of children infected under the age of 4. As with hepatitis A, there is also a vaccine for Hepatitis B.
Hepatitis C and D
Hepatitis C, like B, is spread through blood-to-blood contact. This means it also shares similar routes of administration, such as the sharing of injecting equipment, instances of tattooing, body piercing or acupuncture or having had a blood transfusion before there was a screening for hepatitis C virus (1990). When infected, 15 to 25% of people develop typically mild symptoms, while 50 to 80% of people remain chronically infected. Of these chronically infected people, 25% will develop cirrhosis of the liver, and some may even develop liver cancer. Unlike hepatitis A and B, there is no vaccine for hepatitis C. Hepatitis D is also transmitted via blood-to-blood contact and most infections in Australia are spread through sharing injecting equipment. It is also possible for people to develop both hepatitis B and D – if transmitted simultaneously it is labelled a co-infection, but if the patient has already been infected with hepatitis B it is referred to as a super infection
Hepatitis E is spread exclusively through the faecal-oral avenues, as with hepatitis A. for this reason, the majority of infections in Australia are related to travel to countries where hepatitis E is prevalent. It is also possible for a hepatitis E infection to be passed from a pregnant woman to her unborn child, although this is much less common. Symptoms are uncommon in younger children, while the disease itself usually results in a full recovery (as chronic health infection does not occur in instances of hepatitis E), although it cannot be prevented due to their not being vaccine available at present.