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6-minute read

Key facts

  • There are 5 types of hepatitis caused by viruses (viral hepatitis).
  • Vaccines can protect you against hepatitis A, B and D.
  • You may have factors that make it more likely for you to get hepatitis B and C.
  • Hepatitis can be found through a blood test.

What is hepatitis?

Hepatitis is an illness that inflames and damages your liver. It affects how your liver does its job. This includes making proteins and cleaning your blood. Hepatitis is most often caused by an infection.

What are the types of hepatitis?

There are many types of hepatitis. These can cause symptoms that go from mild to very serious.

There are 5 types of hepatitis caused by viruses (viral hepatitis). These are:

  1. hepatitis A — is an illness that can last from a few weeks to 6 months
  2. hepatitis B — is a serious infection that can lead to liver damage
  3. hepatitis C — is an illness that is easily treatable
  4. hepatitis D — is a disease that only affects people infected with hepatitis B
  5. hepatitis E — is a short-term illness that can be serious in pregnant women

There are other types of hepatitis that are not infectious, including:

  • autoimmune hepatitis
  • alcoholic hepatitis

Having one type of hepatitis doesn’t stop you from getting other types.

What are the symptoms of hepatitis?

The hepatitis viruses cause similar signs of illness.

Depending on the type of hepatitis you have, your symptoms may include:

You can also have hepatitis without any symptoms.

What causes hepatitis?

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is an infection. It is spread either by:

  • direct contact with a person who has the illness
  • from eating dirty:
    • food
    • drink
    • ice

Food and drink are dirty when they have germs from the faeces (poo) of an infected person. This can happen when the water supply isn’t clean. It also happens when people don’t wash their hands properly after using the bathroom.

Australians often get hepatitis A when travelling to countries where the illness is common.

In Australia, there have been outbreaks of hepatitis A caused by people eating frozen berries that have been imported. When this happens:

  • the frozen berries are recalled
  • the Australian Government Department of Health issues a health warning

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B spreads through touching the body fluids of a person with the disease. You can have hepatitis B without knowing it, and may be a carrier.

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is usually caught from blood. This may be: between intravenous drug users, or between a mother and her baby.

Hepatitis D

Hepatitis D only affects people who already have hepatitis B.

Hepatitis E

Hepatitis E can be caught by eating undercooked pork (pig) products. In developing countries, hepatitis can be spread through limited access to:

  • clean water
  • sanitation
  • health services

When should I see my doctor?

Hepatitis A can make you very sick. It doesn’t last long. Most people get better.

Your doctor might screen you for hepatitis B and hepatitis C. You are considered at risk of hepatitis B and C, if:

  • you have ever injected drugs
  • you have ever been in jail
  • you have human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
  • your mother has hepatitis
  • you are pregnant
  • you are the sexual partner of someone with hepatitis
  • you came to Australia from: Egypt, Pakistan, Mediterranean and Eastern Europe, Africa or Asia

Hepatitis D only happens in about 5 people in 100 with hepatitis B (5%).

Hepatitis E is like hepatitis A. It can make you very sick. The sickness doesn’t last long.

How is hepatitis diagnosed?

Your doctor will talk to you and examine you for signs of hepatitis. Hepatitis can be confirmed by blood tests.

You can talk to your doctor if you think you may have a chance of being infected with hepatitis. Also discuss prevention if you’re planning to travel overseas.

How is hepatitis treated?

There is no specific treatment for hepatitis A. Getting better can be slow and can take several weeks or months.

If you have chronic hepatitis B you can take medicine to lower your chances of getting liver disease. Most people who take medicine can live well with hepatitis B.

Medicine for hepatitis C cures most people. The treatment is simple to take. It works in 12 weeks.

Hepatitis D medicine helps to stop the disease progressing. It also focuses on treating your symptoms.

There is no specific treatment for hepatitis E.

Can hepatitis be prevented?

Hepatitis A can be stopped by vaccination. Before travelling, check with your doctor if you need travel vaccinations.

Hepatitis B can be stopped by vaccination.

There is no vaccine to protect against hepatitis C.

The hepatitis B vaccine also protects against hepatitis D.

Hepatitis E can be stopped by:

  • good hygiene practices
  • not drinking water or ice that could be dirty

Resources and support

You can learn more about hepatitis on the Hepatitis Australia website. They also have information in:

  • Arabic
  • Burmese
  • Chinese
  • Hindi
  • Italian
  • Khmer
  • Korean
  • Punjabi
  • Thai
  • Vietnamese

The National Hepatitis Infoline can direct you to confidential, free and localised viral hepatitis information and support services. Call on 1800 437 222 during their operating hours.

You can also call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is on hand 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: November 2022

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