The difference between hepatitis A and B

The difference between hepatitis A and B

Learn everything you need to know about the difference between hepatitis A & B, and how you can prevent these viral infections.

In order to know the difference between Hepatitis A & Hepatitis B, let's first briefly understand about the actual disease. 

What is Hepatitis?

Caused most often by a viral infection, hepatitisis an inflammation of the liver1. Other than a viral infection, alcohol, certain medications, exposure to toxic substances or immune system disorders could cause hepatitis2.

There are 5 main types of hepatitis, known as hepatitisA, B, C, D and E1. All 5 types of hepatitisare highly contagious and could even lead to death1.

Hepatitis A is a viral infection caused by the hepatitisA virus and is mainly transmitted through contaminated food2.

Hepatitis B is serious and the most common infection of the liver that is caused by the hepatitisB virus3. Let’s look at some of the differences between hepatitisA and B below.


The symptoms of hepatitisA and B are quite similar3,4. They include loss of appetite, fever, fatigue, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, joint pains, jaundice and grey-coloured bowel movements2,4.

Severity of disease

Hepatitis B may lead to chronic liver disease — which could include liver failure, cirrhosis or liver cancer4.


Hepatitis A is typically less severe than hepatitisB5. However, the disease could last up to 6 months6. Without hospitalization, a patient may miss 15.5 days of work. If hospitalisation is required, patients are estimated to miss 33.2 days of work7.

In addition to this, 70 – 80% of those who get hepatitisA above the age of 14 have jaundice4.

How is it transmitted?

Hepatitis A is transmitted mainly through contaminated food or drinks and can also be transmitted from direct contact with an infected person2.

Hepatitis B is transmitted through bodily fluids, a baby being born to an infected mother, sexual relations with an infected party, through the sharing of contaminated needles or syringes in drug use, or in the case of injury caused by a needlestick or other sharp instruments4.

Who’s at risk?

Those travelling to regions with intermediate or high risks of hepatitisA, sexual partners of those infected, kids attending a pre-school or day care which an infected child attends, and immediate family members of an infected person are at risk of contracting hepatitisA4,8.


As for hepatitisB, those who are at risk are infants born to mothers with hepatitisB, drug users who share needles and syringes, sexual partners of infected persons and family members of infected persons, those travelling to countries with high risks of hepatitisB, healthcare workers exposed to blood on the job and haemodialysis patients4.

Treatment options

There’s no treatment for hepatitisA6. However, with bed rest and medication to relieve symptoms, hepatitisA patients usually recover within 2 weeks2.

There are no medications available for those with acute hepatitisB either4. However, patients will receive medication to relieve symptoms3.

As for chronic hepatitisB, a liver specialist will monitor the patient for signs of progression to liver disease. Some patients are treated with antiviral medicines3,4.

How to protect against Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B

Vaccination is the best protection for hepatitisA.2 People travelling to countries with a risk of hepatitisA, sexually active homosexual men4 and those with chronic liver disease are at high risk of hepatitisA9.

Proper hygiene habits such as washing hands thoroughly after using the toilet also aid in the prevention of hepatitisA2.

Avoiding multiple sex partners, avoiding unprotected sex, and avoiding of sharing of needles, syringes and blades will help in the prevention of hepatitisB3. Hepatitis B immunization is also available to protect against this disease.3

Hepatitis B vaccine is part of the National Childhood Immunisation Programme but not hepatitisA vaccine.10 Therefore, some children may not have received hepatitisA vaccine.

Check with your doctor if you want to get your child protected against hepatitisA.


  1. World Health Organization; Hepatitis; available at; last viewed 30/06/2014.
  2. Health Promotion Board; Hepatitis A; available at; last viewed 30/06/2014.
  3. Health Promotion Board; Hepatitis B; available at; last viewed 30/06/2014.
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; The ABCs of Hepatitis; 2012, August; Publication No. 21-1076
  5. NYU Medical Centre; Hepatitis What is it?; Available at; last viewed 21/07/2014
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Hepatitis A FAQ for the Public; Available at; last viewed 07/07/2014.
  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Prevention of Hepatitis A through active or passive immunization; Recommendations and Reports; 2006, May 17th;Volume 55; RR07; 1-23.
  8. World Health Organisation; WHO/CDS/CSR/EDC/2000.7: Hepatitis A
  9. Hepatitis A; Available at; last viewed 10/07/2014.
  10. Health Promotion Board; Immunisation for primary school; Available at; last viewed 01/08/14.

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Also read: Vaccines that may cause fever in your child

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Written by

Justina Goh

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