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Viral Hepatitis
Liver cells

Viral Hepatitis

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A (HAV) is a highly contagious infection caused by the Hepatitis A virus spread through contaminated food or water or through sexual contact with someone with HAV. The virus causes liver inflammation.

Symptoms

These may be ‘flu like (fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, muscle aches etc) - some people may have no symptoms at all. They don’t usually appear until you have had the virus for about a month – they can last up to about six months.

Diagnosis

Testing may be done with a HAV antibody test.

Treatment

Treatment with antibiotics is not effective but a vaccine can prevent HAV.

Prognosis/outlook

Hepatitis A is typically a short term infection and people usually recover within a couple of months without treatment and without liver damage, after which they are immune to further infections. In a few number of cases HAC can cause acute liver failure when the liver suddenly stops working. At this point immediate hospitalisation is required.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B (HBV), whilst uncommon in the UK, is the most common liver infection in the world. It is caused by the Hepatitis B virus and spread by contact with an infected person’s blood, semen or other body fluid.

Symptoms

These may be ‘flu like or you may experience no symptoms at all.

Diagnosis

This is carried out using a blood test.

Treatment

There is usually no specific treatment needed – in around 90 per cent of cases it gets better on its own, although painkillers may be prescribed and you may be advised to rest, eat healthily and avoid drinking alcohol.

If it does not get better, after six months, it is known as chronic (long term) Hepatitis B and this can lead to liver cirrhosis or liver cancer. At this point you may be offered two types of treatment: protein injections (Interferon) and antiviral drugs. These will be administered by your GP.

It is possible to be vaccinated against HBV – three injections are needed to achieve immunity.

Prognosis/outlook

Those infected by acute (short term) Hepatitis B will usually recover in a couple of months. However, acute Hepatitis B can sometimes cause significant liver damage and develop into chronic (long term) Hepatitis B. People with chronic HBV typically lead long, healthy lives but the risk remains that they will develop a more serious liver disease later.

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C (HCV) is a viral infection caused by the Hepatitis C virus and usually spread by contact with infected blood, sometimes through sex with an infected person. It can also be passed from mother to baby during childbirth.

Symptoms

Most people don’t feel sick when first infected with HCV although the virus remains in the liver and causes inflammation.

The first time you notice symptoms you are likely to experience ‘flu like aches and pains, sickness and a loss of appetite. As the condition progresses you may become jaundice and experience high, feverish temperatures.

Diagnosis

This is done through a blood test and possibly also a liver biopsy. Alternatively a fibroscan can be used to monitor the damage to the liver from HCV.

Treatment

Treatment is usually a combination of Interferon (protein injections) and Ribavirin, an antiviral drug that stops the virus spreading around your body. However, even if the treatment works this does not make you immune from contracting the virus again. There is no vaccine against it and as yet no cure. However, after between six months and one year the drug therapy means a significant number of people will not experience any further problems if they have also stopped drinking alcohol.

Prognosis/outlook

This is a chronic (long lasting) disease that needs carefully monitoring by your doctor as it can lead to cirrhosis (scarring) and liver cancer.

Hepatitis D

Hepatitis D (HDV) is very rare in the UK and is caused by the hepatitis delta virus spreading through skin tissue or sexually through contact with infected blood or blood products. It affects only those people with HBV - co-infection takes place.

Hepatitis E

Hepatitis E was not recognised as a human disease until 1980; it is caused by the Hepatitis E virus often transmitted to humans through water contaminated by faeces. It is therefore associated with low standards of sanitation and is mainly found in parts of Asia and Africa. It is usually self-limiting – this means most people get better with little or no medical intervention.

To arrange a consultation with a liver consultant please contact The Princess Grace Hospital, Liver, Bile Duct and Pancreas Unit