What Is Hepatitis D?
Hepatitis D, also known as the delta virus, is an infection that
causes the liver to become inflamed. This swelling can impair liver function
and cause long-term liver problems, including liver scarring and cancer. The
condition is caused by the hepatitis D virus (HDV). This virus is rare in the
United States, but it’s fairly common in the following regions:
- South America
- West Africa
- Pacific islands
- Central Asia
- the Mediterranean
HDV is one of many forms of hepatitis. Other types include:
- hepatitis A, which is transmitted through direct
contact with feces or indirect fecal contamination of food or water
- hepatitis B, which is spread through exposure to
body fluids, including blood, urine, and semen
- hepatitis C, which is spread by exposure to
contaminated blood or needles
- hepatitis E, which is a short-term and
self-resolving version of hepatitis transmitted through indirect fecal
contamination of food or water
Unlike the other forms, hepatitis D can’t be contracted on its
own. It can only develop in people who are already infected with hepatitis B.
Hepatitis D can be acute or chronic. Acute hepatitis D occurs
suddenly and typically causes more severe symptoms. It may go away on its own. If
the infection lasts for six months of longer, the condition is known as chronic
hepatitis D. The long-term version of the infection develops gradually over time.
The virus might be present in the body for several months before symptoms occur.
As chronic hepatitis D progresses, the chances of complications increase. Many
people with the condition eventually develop cirrhosis, or severe scarring of
There’s currently no cure or vaccine for hepatitis D, but it can
be prevented in people who aren’t already infected with hepatitis B. Treatment
may also help prevent liver failure when the condition is detected early.
What Are the Symptoms of Hepatitis D?
Hepatitis D doesn’t always cause symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they often
- yellowing of the skin and eyes, which is called
- joint pain
- abdominal pain
- loss of appetite
- dark urine
The symptoms of hepatitis B and hepatitis D are similar, so it
can be difficult to determine which disease is causing your symptoms. In some
cases, hepatitis D can make the symptoms of hepatitis B worse. It can also
cause symptoms in people who have hepatitis B but who never had symptoms.
How Is Hepatitis D Contracted?
Hepatitis D is caused by HDV. The infection is contagious and
spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person. It can
be transmitted through:
- vaginal fluids
- birth (from mother to her newborn)
Once you have hepatitis D, you can infect others even before your
symptoms appear. However, you can only contract hepatitis D if you already have
hepatitis B. According to the Children’s
Hospital of Philadelphia, approximately 5 percent of people with hepatitis
B will go on to develop hepatitis D. You may develop hepatitis D at the same
time you contract hepatitis B.
Who Is at Risk for Hepatitis D?
You’re at an increased risk of getting hepatitis D if you:
- have hepatitis B
- are a man who has sex with other men
- often receive blood transfusions
- abuse injectable or intravenous (IV) drugs, such
How Is Hepatitis D Diagnosed?
Call your doctor right away if you have symptoms of hepatitis D.
If you have symptoms of the disease without jaundice, your doctor may not
To make an accurate diagnosis, your doctor will perform a blood
test that can detect anti-hepatitis D antibodies in your blood. If antibodies
are found, it means you’ve been exposed to the virus.
Your doctor will also give you a liver function test if they
suspect you have liver damage. This is a blood test that evaluates the health
of your liver by measuring the levels of proteins, liver enzymes, and bilirubin
in your blood. Results from the liver function test will show whether your
liver is stressed or damaged.
How Is Hepatitis D Treated?
There are no known treatments for acute or chronic hepatitis D. Unlike
other forms of hepatitis, antiviral medications don’t seem to be very effective
in treating HDV.
You may be given large doses of a medication called interferon
for up to 12 months. Interferon is a type of protein that may stop the virus
from spreading and lead to remission from the disease. However, even after
treatment, people with hepatitis D can still test positive for the virus. This
means that it’s still important to use precautionary measures to prevent
transmission. You should also remain proactive by watching for recurring
If you have cirrhosis or another type of liver damage, you may
need a liver transplant. A liver transplant is a major surgical
operation that involves removing the damaged liver and replacing it with a
healthy liver from a donor. In cases where a liver transplant is needed,
percent of people live five years or longer after the operation.
What Is the Long-Term Outlook for Someone with Hepatitis
Hepatitis D isn’t curable. Early diagnosis is essential in
preventing liver damage. You should call your doctor right away if you suspect
you have hepatitis. When the condition goes untreated, complications are more
likely to occur. These include:
- liver disease
- liver cancer
People with chronic hepatitis D are more likely to develop
complications than those with the acute version of the infection.
How Can Hepatitis D Be Prevented?
The only known way to prevent hepatitis D is to avoid infection
with hepatitis B. You can take the following preventive measures to reduce your
risk for hepatitis B:
- Get vaccinated. There’s a vaccine for hepatitis
B that all children should receive. Adults who are at high risk for infection,
such as those who abuse intravenous drugs, should also be vaccinated. The
vaccination is usually given in a series of three injections over a period of
protection. Always practice safe sex by using a condom with all of your sexual
partners. You should never engage in unprotected sex unless you're
certain your partner isn't infected with hepatitis or any other sexually
- Avoid using
illegal drugs. Avoid or stop using illegal drugs that can be injected,
such as heroin or cocaine. If you’re unable to stop using drugs, make sure to use
a sterile needle each time you inject them. Never share needles with other
cautious about tattoos and piercings. Go to a trustworthy shop whenever
you get a piercing or tattoo. Ask how the equipment is cleaned and make sure
the employees use sterile needles.