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Hepatitis D

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Hepatitis D is a viral infection that damages the liver, but it can propagate only when the hepatitis B virus is also present. Approximately 15 million people worldwide are infected with hepatitis D.

Cause

Hepatitis D is caused by the hepatitis D virus, which is found in certain body fluids of infected people. However, hepatitis D virus remains in the body only if the hepatitis B virus is also present.

Transmission

Hepatitis D can be found in the blood, semen, vaginal fluids, and other body fluids of people who are infected. Transmission happens when infected body fluid enters another person’s body. The hepatitis D virus will remain in the body only if hepatitis B virus is also present.

Hepatitis D virus is most commonly transmitted in the same ways as hepatitis B.

  • Sex with an infected partner
  • Contact with the blood of an infected person
  • Sharing of needles, syringes, razors, or toothbrushes with an infected person
  • Mother-to-child transmission during childbirth

There are two types of hepatitis D infection:

  1. Co-infection, in which a person is infected with hepatitis D and hepatitis B at the same time
  2. Superinfection, in which a person who is already infected with chronic hepatitis B is then infected with hepatitis D

Hepatitis D is not transmitted through shaking hands, coughing, sneezing, breastfeeding, or sharing cups and utensils.

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Symptoms

Symptoms include the following:

  • Jaundice
  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dark urine
  • Joint pain

Diagnosis

Healthcare providers review symptoms and can diagnose hepatitis D with a blood test, which will reveal the presence of antibodies to the hepatitis D virus.

Treatment

The acute form of the hepatitis D virus is more likely to disappear on its own in co-infection cases, when a person gets infected with hepatitis B and hepatitis D at the same time. Fewer than 5 percent of people co-infected will develop chronic hepatitis D.

In superinfection cases, in which a person with chronic hepatitis B then gets hepatitis D, up to 80 percent of people will develop chronic hepatitis D. These cases may result in severe chronic hepatitis D that often progress to cirrhosis (end-stage liver disease) or cancer of the liver.

The drug interferon may be helpful in treating disease conditions in some patients.

Prevention

Because hepatitis D needs hepatitis B to propagate, the best way you can prevent hepatitis D infection is to be vaccinated against hepatitis B.

However, there is no vaccine to prevent those who already have developed chronic hepatitis B from getting hepatitis D. The best course of action for hepatitis B carriers is to avoid the high-risk behaviors associated with hepatitis D superinfection, including

  • Sex with an infected partner
  • Contact with the blood of an infected person
  • Sharing of needles, syringes, razors, or toothbrushes with an infected person

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Last Updated October 02, 2009