The difference between hepatitis A and B

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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, hepatitis is 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 hepatitis A, B, C, D and E1. All 5 types of hepatitis are highly contagious and could even lead to death1.

Hepatitis A is a viral infection caused by the hepatitis A 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 hepatitis B virus3. Let’s look at some of the differences between hepatitis A and B below.

Symptoms

The symptoms of hepatitis A 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.

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Hepatitis A is typically less severe than hepatitis B5. 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 hepatitis A 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 hepatitis A, 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 hepatitis A4,8.

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As for hepatitis B, those who are at risk are infants born to mothers with hepatitis B, 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 hepatitis B, healthcare workers exposed to blood on the job and haemodialysis patients4.

Treatment options

There’s no treatment for hepatitis A6. However, with bed rest and medication to relieve symptoms, hepatitis A patients usually recover within 2 weeks2.

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

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As for chronic hepatitis B, 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 hepatitis A.2 People travelling to countries with a risk of hepatitis A, sexually active homosexual men4 and those with chronic liver disease are at high risk of hepatitis A9.

Proper hygiene habits such as washing hands thoroughly after using the toilet also aid in the prevention of hepatitis A2.

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Avoiding multiple sex partners, avoiding unprotected sex, and avoiding of sharing of needles, syringes and blades will help in the prevention of hepatitis B3. 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 hepatitis A vaccine.10 Therefore, some children may not have received hepatitis A vaccine.

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

References:

  1. World Health Organization; Hepatitis; available at www.who.int/topics/hepatitis/en/; last viewed 30/06/2014.
  2. Health Promotion Board; Hepatitis A; available at www.hpb.gov.sg/HOPPortal/dandc-article/534; last viewed 30/06/2014.
  3. Health Promotion Board; Hepatitis B; available at hpb.gov.sg/HOPPortal/dandc-article/536; 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 www.med.nyu.edu/sti/content21df.html?cid=3; last viewed 21/07/2014
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Hepatitis A FAQ for the Public; Available at www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/a/afaq.htm; 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 www.vaccines.gov/diseases/hepatitis_a/; last viewed 10/07/2014.
  10. Health Promotion Board; Immunisation for primary school; Available at www.hpb.gov.sg/HOPPortal/health-article/630; last viewed 01/08/14.

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Also read: Vaccines that may cause fever in your child

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