The most common types of hepatitis are A, B, and C. Hepatitis A is usually a short-term infection while hepatitis B and C can cause long-term, or chronic, infections.
A person can have both hepatitis B and hepatitis C at the same time. This article will examine the difference between these two viruses, the treatment options available, and the outlook for people who are infected.
Hepatitis B vs. hepatitis C
Hepatitis B and hepatitis C are both viral infections that attack the liver, and they have similar symptoms.
The most significant difference between hepatitis B and hepatitis C is that people may get hepatitis B from the bodily fluids of an infected person.
Hepatitis C usually only spreads through blood-to-blood contact.
Neither hepatitis B nor C spreads through coughing, breast milk, or sharing food with or hugging an infected person.
Many people who have hepatitis do not become aware of it until the infection has advanced.
Read on for more information about hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
Exposure to the hepatitis B virus can cause an acute infection within the first 6 months. This short-term illness causes flu-like symptoms.
Although it is possible to acquire hepatitis B through contact with infected blood, transmission often occurs through bodily fluids.
Hepatitis B transmission may occur through sex, and a woman can pass the infection to a baby during childbirth.
Some people may clear the virus from their system, but others will develop chronic hepatitis B.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that the younger a person is when they become infected with hepatitis B, the more likely it is that they will have a chronic infection.
For instance, an estimated 90 percent of infants with the virus will develop a chronic infection.
Additional key facts about the hepatitis B virus from the CDC include:
- An estimated 850,000 people in the United States have hepatitis B, but the real figure may be closer to 2.2 million.
- Around 257 million people around the world have hepatitis B.
- There are approximately 21,000 new infections in the U.S. each year.
- Transmission often occurs as a result of childbirth, unprotected sex with a person who has the virus, sharing needles or medical equipment that involves blood (such as glucose monitors), or sharing personal items, such as razors or toothbrushes.
Hepatitis C can also cause an acute infection. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), an estimated 75 to 85 percent of people with acute hepatitis C will also develop chronic hepatitis C.
However, about 50 percent of people with hepatitis C do not know that they have it.
Additional key facts about the hepatitis C virus from the CDC include:
- An estimated 3.5 million people in the U.S. live with hepatitis C. About 75 percent of those with hepatitis C were born between 1945 and 1965.
- About 41,000 new infections occur in the U.S. each year.
- Transmission occurs due to exposure to infected blood, which can occur through sharing needles, poor infection control, or childbirth.
People who received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992 could also have become infected during this procedure. After 1992, doctors began screening blood for hepatitis C before giving people blood transfusions.
Hepatitis B and C can cause similar symptoms in both the acute and chronic infection stages.
Hepatitis B symptoms in the acute phase usually occur within 6 months of the initial virus exposure.
These symptoms can include:
- dark yellow urine
- joint pain
- pale or gray stools
- yellowing of the skin or eyes, called jaundice
Some very young children with hepatitis B do not experience symptoms.
About 15 to 25 percent of people with hepatitis B get chronic liver disease, which can include liver damage, cirrhosis, and liver cancer.
Acute hepatitis C can cause the same symptoms as acute hepatitis B infections. However, hepatitis C is more likely than hepatitis B to become a chronic condition.
Of those with chronic hepatitis C, the CDC estimate that 5 to 20 percent will develop cirrhosis, which is liver scarring. They also state that 1 to 5 percent of people with hepatitis C will die from cirrhosis or liver cancer.
Many people may not recognize that they have hepatitis B or C until they receive screening for other blood disorders.
Others may have symptoms that indicate liver problems, such as fluid retention, pale stools, or bleeding problems.
There is currently no cure for hepatitis B, but a doctor will monitor an infected person’s symptoms and recommend practices that can promote liver health.
Possible recommendations include:
- abstaining from drinking alcohol as it can damage the liver
- avoiding medications that the liver filters, which include nutritional and herbal supplements
Additional hepatitis B treatments depend on an individual’s specific symptoms and any complications that occur.
Since 2013, doctors have been able to prescribe medications that can treat hepatitis C in most people. These antiviral medications include ledipasvir/sofosbuvir (Harvoni) and daclatasvir (Daklinza).
A doctor will prescribe different medications depending on the genotype, or variation, of hepatitis C that a person has. It is usually necessary to take these drugs for 12 to 24 weeks.
A vaccine exists for hepatitis B. The vaccine stimulates the body to make antibodies, or immune cells, that can fight the hepatitis B infection.
People at risk of exposure to hepatitis B, infants, and people with an HIV infection should get the hepatitis B vaccine.
Many schools and public health initiatives routinely offer the hepatitis B vaccine to children.
There is no vaccine available for hepatitis C. However, certain lifestyle practices can help prevent the transmission of both viruses, including:
- refraining from sharing needles
- practicing safe sex, especially if a person has more than one sexual partner
- training healthcare workers at risk of exposure on needle safety
- ensuring that tattoo parlors use thorough cleaning and safety practices
- avoiding sharing personal care items, such as toothbrushes or razors
Both hepatitis B and C infections can cause short- and long-term effects. However, hepatitis C is more likely to turn into a chronic condition than hepatitis B.
A person can transmit hepatitis B through bodily fluids, while the transmission of hepatitis C usually only occurs through blood-to-blood contact.
A person can reduce their risk of hepatitis B transmission by getting the hepatitis B vaccine. Doctors can often treat chronic hepatitis C.
If a person has risk factors for either form of hepatitis, such as sharing needles, a history of unprotected sex, or a blood transfusion before 1992, they should speak to a doctor about testing.
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