Hepatitis is an illness that inflames and damages your liver. It affects the liver’s ability to do its job, which is to clear the blood of unwanted impurities. It is usually, but not always, caused by an infection.
Types of hepatitis
There are several types of hepatitis which cause symptoms that range from mild to very serious.
The five types, caused by different viruses, are:
- hepatitis A – an illness that can last from a few weeks to six months
- hepatitis B – a serious infection
- hepatitis C – a long-term disease that can become chronic
- hepatitis D – a disease which affects only people infected with Hepatitis B
- hepatitis E – a serious disease in poor countries, which is rare in Australia.
There are other types that are not infectious including:
- autoimmune hepatitis
- alcoholic hepatitis.
Having one type of hepatitis doesn’t stop you from getting other types.
Depending on the type of hepatitis you have, the symptoms may include:
- jaundice – a yellowing of the skin and eyes
- nausea and loss of appetite
- abdominal pain
- joint pain
- clay-coloured stools (poo)
- dark urine.
You can also have hepatitis without knowing it and without any symptoms.
What causes hepatitis
Hepatitis A infection is spread by direct contact with a person who has the illness or from consuming contaminated food, drink or ice. The food or drink would be contaminated with the faeces (poo) of an infected person.
The recent outbreak of hepatitis A across Australia was caused by people eating contaminated frozen berries imported from China and Chile. Particular brands of frozen berries were recalled, and health warnings and information issued by the Australian Government Department of Health.
Hepatitis B spreads through contact with bodily fluids such as blood, sweat, saliva or semen from a person who has it. You can have it without knowing it and may be a carrier.
Hepatitis C is usually transferred by blood, such as between intravenous drug users, or between a mother and her baby.
Your doctor will talk to you and examine you. Infection with hepatitis A, B and C can be confirmed with blood tests.
You can talk to your doctor if you think you may be at risk of being infected with hepatitis through contact with bodily fluids or medical treatments. Also discuss prevention if you’re planning to travel to a country where you might consume contaminated food or water.
Last reviewed: July 2015