Hepatitis is an illness that inflames and damages your liver. It affects the liver’s ability to do its job, which includes making proteins and clearing the blood of unwanted impurities. Hepatitis is usually, but not always, caused by an infection.
Types of hepatitis
There are many types of hepatitis which cause symptoms that range from mild to very serious.
Five types of viral hepatitis are:
- hepatitis A – an illness that can last from a few weeks to six months
- hepatitis B – a serious infection that can lead to liver damage
- hepatitis C – a disease that can be acute or chronic, but is easily treatable
- hepatitis D – a disease that only affects people infected with Hepatitis B, and is a rarer type of hepatitis in Australia
- hepatitis E –a short-term illness that can be severe in pregnant women, but is rare in Australia.
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.
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 food, drink or ice contaminated with the faeces (poo) of an infected person.
In 2015 there was an outbreak of hepatitis A across Australia caused by people eating contaminated frozen berries imported from China. 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 the bodily fluids (such as blood, sweat, saliva or semen) of a person who has it. You can have hepatitis B 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 for signs of hepatitis. 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 2017