Viral Hepatitis D

What is hepatitis D?

Hepatitis D is a condition which brings about an irritation of the liver and occurs in people who already have hepatitis B. The hepatitis D virus is unable to stay alive in the body without the hepatitis B virus. You can be contaminated with hepatitis D at the same instance as hepatitis B, which is known as co-infection. There is also the possibility of infection by the hepatitis D virus after being exposed to the hepatitis B virus, which is branded as superinfection.

Hepatitis D is not widespread in the UK and is mostly found in countries in the Middle East, Africa and Central America. Around 5 percent of individuals with hepatitis B will also have hepatitis D.

There are three different types of hepatitis D, which are known as genotypes and include type 1, type 2 and type 3, with type 1 being the most common genotype.

Causes of hepatitis D

The term hepatitis refers to irritation of the liver and there are diverse causes of liver inflammation, from viral infections to drinking too much alcohol. Hepatitis D is spread in a comparable way to hepatitis B as both viruses are blood-borne, signifying that they can be spread via contact with a contaminated person’s blood or bodily fluids. Causes include needle sharing with an infected individual, having sexual intercourse without protection and, in rare cases, sharing razors or toothbrushes.

Symptoms of hepatitis D

Hepatitis D combined with hepatitis B is often more dangerous than hepatitis B alone and symptoms are usually worse when an individual develops hepatitis D after hepatitis B, rather than developing both infections at the same instance. Symptoms of hepatitis D are comparable to those associated with hepatitis B and usually include flu-like symptoms, such as:

  • A high temperature.
  • Jaundice (this leads to the whites of the eyes and skin to appear yellow as a result of a build-up of bilirubin in the body).
  • Tiredness.
  • Nausea and sickness.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Dark urine.

In some cases people do not experience any symptoms and are unaware that they have hepatitis D.

How is hepatitis D diagnosed?

Hepatitis D is diagnosed by a blood test, which will also be used to diagnose hepatitis B and to check for the presence of antigens and antibodies. The test results can show whether the virus is active and whether the infection has cleared. If you have hepatitis D your doctor may request more tests, such as liver function investigations to see how well your liver is working and measure the extent of inflammation.

Treatment for hepatitis D

Treatment for hepatitis D usually involves injections of a drug called interferon alpha, which helps to boost the immune system and reduce the risk of further infections. Interferon works in the same way as an element by the name of interferon that is found naturally in the body. Treatment for hepatitis D is long-term and the minimum course of interferon is usually 12 months and most people have injections three times per week.

Preventing hepatitis D

Hepatitis D cannot survive in the body without hepatitis B so the same precautions apply for preventing hepatitis D. This involves keeping an eye on your personal hygiene, using a condom, covering any cuts or grazes, avoiding sharing needles, razors or toothbrushes and cleaning any traces of blood from surfaces or objects. There is no vaccination against hepatitis D, but the vaccination to prevent hepatitis B will ward off hepatitis D infection in individuals who have not already got hepatitis B. However, it cannot prevent individuals who have hepatitis B from developing hepatitis D.

If you are planning to visit a country where hepatitis B is common it is sensible to have an immunisation before you go. Ask your GP for advice about which vaccinations you need and leave plenty of time before you go, as the immunisation requires separate injections over a specific time period.

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