Health Questions and Answers

Question: What are the differences among hepatitis A, B, and C?

Answer:

Hepatitis A, called infectious hepatitis, is easily spread by the fecal/oral route. The hepatitis A virus (HAV) causes a short-lived, benign, acute hepatitis that is not followed by chronic liver disease. IgG antibodies to HAV remain positive for life. To determine if the hepatitis is acute, one must look for IgM antibodies in the serum.

Hepatitis B, called serum hepatitis, is contracted by contact with blood or other bodily secretions from an infected individual, usually through a break in the skin or use of a contaminated needle. Unlike hepatitis A, hepatitis B may cause chronic disease and cirrhosis. It also predisposes to hepatocellular carcinoma (hepatoma). A carrier state is possible in which patients demonstrate persistent hepatitis B surface antigenemia (HBsAg) without clinically evident disease but are able to transmit the disease.

Hepatitis C had been previously included in the non-A, non-B hepatitis category. It is the form of hepatitis most commonly contracted from blood transfusion. It also is the most common viral cause of chronic liver disease and increases the patient’s risk for developing hepatoma (hepatocellular carcinoma).

Reference:  Sleisenger MH, Fordtran JS (eds): Gastrointestinal Disease: Pathophysiology, Diagnosis, and Management, 7th ed. Philadelphia, W.B. Saunders, 2003.

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