Hepatitis D

Published: March 20, 2013

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Overview

Hepatitis D (HDV) is another, more rare form of hepatitis that only affects hepatitis B (HBV) patients. It can be contracted through bodily fluids like blood, semen, vaginal fluids, and saliva. Sharing needles for tattoos, piercings, and drugs can put someone at high risk for the disease.

The disease is uncommon in developed and clean areas, and it is in more common in communities with living conditions that are unsanitary and where diseases, in general, are widespread. Infection rates tend to be higher in the Mediterranean region, sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and parts of South America. Tens of millions of people suffer from the infection. Occurrences of the disease are also present in Taiwan, China, and India.

Hepatitis D is a virus caused by small circular RNA. It is classified as a subviral satellite condition since it can only affect people who have been infected with the hepatitis B virus. You can have hepatitis B without having hepatitis D, but you can only have hepatitis D if you have hepatitis B.

Types

Hepatitis is a virus that attacks the liver, causing inflammation and damage. Hepatitis A, B, and C are the most common strains. There are no cures for Hepatitis B and C, but hepatitis A can be cured with treatment. If left untreated, hepatitis can cause sustaining damage. Hepatitis D and E are rarer forms of the virus. In order to become infected with hepatitis D, a person must already have hepatitis B. There are two forms of HDV. The fist is acute, and the second is chronic, which is lifelong.

All forms of hepatitis can produce similar symptoms that can last for a period of weeks or months. People with hepatitis may feel fatigued, and they may develop pain in the liver. Other symptoms include jaundice and a fever. Only a doctor can diagnose you with hepatitis based on your symptoms, and medical expertise is necessary to determine what strain is affecting your liver.

Symptoms

The virus might remain in an incubation period for up to six months. Some people will develop no symptoms and others will develop only mild symptoms. Even with no symptoms present, the disease is contagious.

The most common symptoms resemble other forms of hepatitis and include exhaustion, appetite loss, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, pain, sore throat, dark urine, stomach pain, stool that is light in color. When a person becomes symptomatic, he or she might develop jaundice, which results in the skin becoming more yellow.

Symptoms like fatigue might be gone, but abdominal pain might become more severe. One in twenty patients will develop liver failure and require a transplant.

Many people with hepatitis D are unaware that they have the condition, especially if they have already been diagnosed with hepatitis B.

Causes/Risk Factors

A person must already have the hepatitis B virus to become infected with hepatitis D. Hepatitis B and D spread through human to human contact through blood, semen, vaginal fluids, and saliva. In rare situations, a mother can transfer the disease to her newborn baby.

The disease travels through blood, semen, and saliva. At-risk groups included individuals with multiple sex partners, people who share needles, healthcare workers, and patients undergoing procedures with equipment that has not been properly cleaned. Even a small amount of blood can cause the disease to spread. Activities like kissing and touching do not spread the disease.

Tests/Diagnosis

A blood test is used to test for HDV. It is recommended that those infected with HBV should undergo routine diagnostic tests for HDV. Methods of diagnosis can identify up to one hundred copies of the HDV genome.

Treatment

Hepatitis B has no cure. The virus might leave a person's system over time. The best course of treatment involves substantial rest and a proper diet. A hepatitis B vaccine exists. If a person is vaccinated against hepatitis B, he or she cannot develop hepatitis D.

For most acute cases, HDV will go away on its own. Some acute cases will become chronic, and patients will suffer from liver damage, cancer, and death. No drugs have been developed to treat chronic HDV. A doctor might choose to treat HBV as an indirect means to treat HDV. Little is known about treatments for HDV. People with severe liver damage will require a transplant.

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