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Viral Hepatitis

Viral Hepatitis

Viral (or aseptic) hepatitis is liver inflammation caused by infection with a virus. Common symptoms of hepatitis are pain below the right side of the rib cage, nausea, fatigue, jaundice (causing a yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes), and headache.

All types of hepatitis damage liver cells. Hepatitis can cause the liver to become swollen and tender. Some types of hepatitis can cause permanent liver damage.

The following viruses can cause hepatitis:

  • Hepatitis A virus (HAV)
  • Hepatitis B virus (HBV)
  • Hepatitis C virus (HCV)
  • Hepatitis D virus (HDV)
  • Hepatitis E virus (HEV)
  • Epstein-Barr virus (which causes mononucleosis but rarely causes hepatitis)
  • Cytomegalovirus (which causes CMV, which is like mononucleosis but rarely causes hepatitis)

A virus that causes hepatitis can spread from one person to another. Some hepatitis viruses spread when an uninfected person comes in contact with infected body fluids. Body fluids include blood, semen, or vaginal fluid. Other viruses are spread by contaminated food and water or by coming in direct contact with the stool (feces) of a person who is infected with the virus. In the early stage of infection, the type of hepatitis virus causing the infection may be hard to identify. But several weeks to several months after infection occurs, blood tests can show which of the viruses is causing hepatitis.

Most people with viral hepatitis recover on their own. And doctors often will recommend bed rest, plenty of fluids, and medicine to relieve fever and headache. Antiviral medicine can treat some cases of hepatitis. Some forms of hepatitis can become chronic and increase a person's chance of liver failure or liver cancer.

Last Revised: July 6, 2011

Author: Healthwise Staff

Medical Review: E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & W. Thomas London, MD - Hepatology

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