Is hepatitis contagious? Signs and symptoms you should never ignore

Hepatitis has been a topic of conversation in the UK since spring, after a mysterious outbreak of the virus among children left many unwell.

Hepatitis is a disease which is characterised by inflammation of the liver. A person’s liver may become inflamed for many reasons including too much alcohol, physical injury or autoimmune response.

The most common types of hepatitis viruses are A, B, C, D, and E. Whether or not the illness is contagious depends on the two categories of the virus that can affect people – infectious and noninfectious.

This World Hepatitis Day, we take a look ar everything you need about how the different types of hepatitis viruses spread and symptoms to look out for.

What are the different hepatitis viruses?

Hepatitis A, B and C are among the most common types of hepatitis viruses. Each type of virus is found in different bodily fluids, spreads differently and can have different symptoms.

Hepatitis A is caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV), and the virus is found in the poo (stool) of HAV-infected people.

This type of hepatitis spreads from person to person by putting something contaminated with the stool of an infected person in your mouth.

It commonly spreads when people don’t wash their hands properly after using the toilet and then touch or prepare other people’s food.

Hepatitis B is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV) and is found in blood and certain other bodily fluids. HBV spreads when a person who is not immune to it comes in contact with blood or bodily fluid of an infected person.

The virus most commonly spreads through unprotected sex with an infected person, sharing of needles or from an infected mother to her baby during vaginal birth. However, exposure to blood in any situation can be risk for transmission.

Hepatitis V is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV), which is also found in the blood and bodily fluids of an infected person. Similar to hepatitis B, HCV spread through sharing needs or from an infected mother to her baby during vaginal birth.

While it’s possible to get hepatitis C from sex, it’s quite uncommon.

Is hepatitis contagious?
Hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C are all caused by viruses and are contagious, but each virus spreads differently.

Hepatitis A is spread by eating food or drinking water with the virus in it or touching something contaminated with the virus, then touching food or your face.

Both hepatitis B is transmitted when a person comes in contact with blood or other bodily fluids from an infected person.

It spreads by having sex with an infected person, sharing drug needles, using infected needles for tattoos, acupuncture or piercings, sharing toothbrushes, razors, or other personal items with an infected person and from a pregnant mother to their baby if the mother had hepatitis during pregnancy.

Similar to B, hepatitis C also spreads through the blood and be transmitted through sharing drug needles or using infected needles for tattooing, acupuncture, or piercings and from mother to baby if the mother had hepatitis during pregnancy.

However, HCV can also spread through using cocaine straws with an infected person. Before 1990, it was also common for hepatitis C to spread by receiving a blood transfusion. Though C can spread through sex, it is uncommon.

Signs and symptoms of hepatitis

There are some symptoms which are common for those infected by hepatitis A, B, and C. These include:

Flu-like illness early on
Yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice)
Loss of appetite
Dark-coloured urine
Light- or clay-coloured stools
Pain under the ribs on the right side of the abdomen
Joint pain
Some additional symptoms of hepatitis A include:

Itchy skin
Liver damage that can lead to death (rare)

Muscle aches
Weight loss

Both hepatitis B and C can lead to scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) over time. Symptoms of cirrhosis includes:

Over time, hepatitis B and hepatitis C infections can lead to scarring of the liver (cirrhosis). Symptoms of cirrhosis include:

Swelling in belly and legs
Fluid build-up in the lungs
Bruising or bleeding easily
Difficulty breathing
Feeling of fullness
Confusion that can come on suddenly
Chronic hepatitis B and C also increases the risk of developing liver cancer.

How to protect yourself against hepatitis
You can protect yourself from hepatitis B by getting the hepatitis B vaccine.

There is no vaccine for hepatitis A or C, but you can protect yourself by being cautious and hygienic.

Take simple steps like making sure to wash your hands after going to the toilet, or not sharing personal items like razors or toothbrushes and disinfecting surfaces that may have come into contact with blood or other bodily substances from an infected person.