What are the symptoms of viral hepatitis?
Most people with viral hepatitis will have no symptoms at all at first. You can be living with hepatitis for years or even decades without realising. But left without treatment, hepatitis B and C can both cause serious liver problems including fibrosis (a scarring of the liver which can be reversed when caught early), cirrhosis (a type of permanent damage to the liver's structure and function) and liver cancers.
Some of the early warning signs for hepatitis include:
- feeling generally unwell
- stomach problems and weight loss
- jaundice (where the skin or eyes become yellow)
- change in colour pee (becoming darker) or poo (either darker or lighter)
You may have some of these symptoms and not others. But even without symptoms, the infection may be damaging the liver, so it's important to get tested if you think you might be at risk.
What are the other types of hepatitis?
The word 'hepatitis' refers to inflammation of the liver. As such, hepatitis can have several different causes, all of which results in inflammation and damage of the liver stopping it from functioning properly.
Hepatitis can be the result of certain lifestyle choices (including too much alcohol and smoking), genetic factors, or viral infections. Most hepatitis in the world is caused by viral infections.
There are 5 main hepatitis viruses, including:
Hepatitis A: This is passed on through food, water that has been in contact with the poo of people living with the virus. There is a vaccine that can prevent hepatitis A.
Hepatitis B: This is spread in the blood. It's usually passed from mother to child. In rarer cases, it can be passed on through sex and sharing injecting equipment. There is a vaccine to prevent hepatitis B.
Hepatitis C: This is usually passed on in blood to blood contact. Hepatitis C can be treated with antiviral medication.
Hepatitis D: This only affects people who already have hepatitis B. It can be passed on through blood to blood contact or sex. There's no vaccine for hep D, but having the hep B vaccine will help.
Hepatitis E: It's linked to eating uncooked pork meat or shellfish. It's normally a mild and shorter-term infection but can be more serious for people with weakened immune systems.
How are hepatitis B and C diagnosed?
If you might have been at risk of getting either hep B or hep C, it's important to get tested. Once you know that you have the virus you can get treatment. This will help you stay healthy and prevent your liver from future damage.
A blood test can look for hep B antigens (parts of the virus itself). The test can show whether you have hep B from 6 to 12 weeks after infection. In a lot of cases, hep B can be cleared from the body without treatment, especially if you had the hep B vaccine. However, for some people, the infection will need to be treated to prevent liver damage.
A blood test will look for hep C antibodies. These are part of your immune system and will show whether your body has come into contact with the hep C virus. A positive result to an antibody test could mean that you either have the virus now or that you've had it previously. To know whether you have hep C now, positive antibody tests will need to be followed up with a 'PCR viral load test'. People who are living with HIV may be given the viral load test first, as antibody tests can be less accurate for them. Hepatitis C can be cured with direct-acting antiviral treatment.