Types of Hepatitis

Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

There are five types of viral hepatitis—A, B, C, D, and E. Each is caused by a different hepatitis virus.

Viral hepatitis is common. Worldwide, 354 million people are living with hepatitis B or C. The CDC estimates that around 3 million people will develop new, chronic cases of one of these viruses each year.

This article will help you understand how you might get each of these viruses, how you could pass them to other people, what illnesses they cause, and how they are treated. It also discusses the types of hepatitis vaccines that are currently available.

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Watch Now: The Five Types of Viral Hepatitis

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is caused by eating food and drinking water contaminated with a virus called HAV. It can also be caused by anal-oral contact during sex. While it can cause swelling and inflammation in the liver, it doesn’t lead to chronic (life-long) disease.

Almost everyone who gets hepatitis A has a full recovery. There is a vaccine for hepatitis A that can be given to children or at-risk adults. Practicing good hygiene and handwashing can also reduce your risk of contracting hepatitis A virus.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is caused by the virus HBV. It is spread by contact with an infected person’s blood, semen, or other body fluids. And, it is a sexually transmitted disease (STD).

You can get hepatitis B by:

  • Having unprotected sex (not using a condom) with an infected person.
  • Sharing drug needles (for illegal drugs like heroin and cocaine or legal drugs like vitamins and steroids).
  • Getting a tattoo or body piercing with dirty (nonsterile) needles and tools that were used on someone else.
  • Getting pricked with a needle that has infected blood on it (healthcare workers can get hepatitis B this way).
  • Sharing a toothbrush, razor, or other personal items with an infected person.
  • An infected woman can give hepatitis B to her baby at birth or through her breast milk.
  • Through a bite from another person.

With hepatitis B, the liver also becomes inflamed. Hepatitis B can be a serious infection that can cause liver damage, which may result in cancer. Some people are not able to get rid of the virus, which makes the infection chronic, or lifelong.

Blood banks test all donated blood for hepatitis B, greatly reducing the risk of getting the virus from blood transfusions or blood products. There is also a vaccine for hepatitis B. It is recommended for everyone, from infants to adults, to prevent contracting the disease.

Hepatitis B can be diagnosed with blood tests. The tests look for certain types of hepatitis B antigens and antibodies. These include: 

  • Hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) 
  • Hepatitis B surface antibody (anti-HBs)
  • Total hepatitis B core antibody (anti-HBc)
  • IgM antibody to hepatitis B core antigen (IgM anti-HBc)

The hepatitis B surface antigen is a protein that can be found on the surface of the HBV virus. Your immune system makes antibodies to HBsAg as a way of fighting the infection. The presence of antigens and/or antibodies can help your healthcare provider identify the phase of HBV infection and whether it is acute or chronic.

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is caused by the virus HCV. It can be severe and is considered to be the deadliest type of hepatitis. In the United States, HCV kills more people than any other type of infectious disease.

Hepatitis C is spread the same way as hepatitis B, through contact with an infected person’s blood or other body fluids. It can be spread via sex, but this is rare.

Like hepatitis B, hepatitis C causes inflammation of the liver and can cause liver damage that can lead to cancer. If untreated, Hepatitis C can develop into a chronic infection, which can lead to scarring of the liver (cirrhosis). However, there are now effective treatments for HCV.

Blood banks test all donated blood for hepatitis C too, significantly reducing transmission risk from transfusions and blood products. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C.

Hepatitis D

Hepatitis D is caused by the virus HDV. You can only get hepatitis D if you are already infected with hepatitis B. It is spread through contact with infected blood, dirty needles that have HDV on them, and unprotected sex (not using a condom) with a person infected with HDV.

Hepatitis D causes swelling of the liver. Preventing hepatitis B by being vaccinated and avoiding blood and body fluid exposure is the best way to prevent getting hepatitis D.

Hepatitis E

Hepatitis E is caused by the virus HEV. You get hepatitis E from food or water infected with the virus. It can also be spread through oral-anal contact. This type of hepatitis doesn’t often occur in the U.S.

It causes swelling of the liver, but usually no long-term damage. People who are pregnant or immune-compromised are at greater risk of liver damage. There is no vaccine for this virus. Practice good hygiene and avoid drinking tap water when traveling internationally.

What Are the Warning Signs of Hepatitis?

The warning signs of hepatitis may be subtle, or there may be no symptoms at all. When symptoms do appear, it is usually only after the disease has progressed. These symptoms may include:

  • Fever 
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain 
  • Hives (with hepatitis B) 
7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Hepatitis (Viral).

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Global viral hepatitis: millions of people are affected.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hepatitis A VIS.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hepatitis B VIS.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Interpretation of hepatitis B serologic test results.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hepatitis C kills more Americans than any other infectious disease.

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hepatitis E Questions and Answers for the Public.

By Buddy T
Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism.