a global map showing different livers with hepatitis A B C and D

What Is Hepatitis D?

Hepatitis D is an illness that comes from the hepatitis D virus (HDV). Infection with HDV inflames the liver. This can result in a short (acute) illness or a long-term (chronic) illness.1,2

Who does hepatitis D affect?

Hepatitis D affects people who already have hepatitis B (HBV). Hepatitis D can arise during or after a hepatitis B infection. When the 2 illnesses occur at once, they are known as coinfection. In other words, a person can be coinfected with hepatitis B and D. Superinfection is the term used when a person who already has chronic HBV later acquires hepatitis D.1,2

The type of infection impacts who gets chronic hepatitis D. One study showed that hepatitis D became chronic in only 2 percent of people with a hep B/hep C coinfection. The same study found that hepatitis D became chronic in more than 90 percent of people with a superinfection.3

Hepatitis D does not affect as many people in the United States as it does in other countries. This form of hepatitis mostly occurs in people who live in parts of Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America. One study found that fewer than 1 percent of people in the United States had the antibodies for HDV.1,2,4

Some people have a greater risk of contracting hepatitis D, including:1,2

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  • People with chronic HBV
  • People who have sex with someone who has HDV
  • People who live with someone who has HDV
  • People who inject drugs
  • People who take hemodialysis
  • Babies born to mothers who have HDV
  • Healthcare workers

How do people get hepatitis D?

People can get hepatitis D in 2 ways. The first is by having hepatitis B. The second is through an encounter with the blood and body fluids of someone with hepatitis D.1,2

Exposure to infected blood and body fluids can happen in several ways. Sex is a common one. Using a needle, razor, toothbrush, and other hygiene items used by someone with hepatitis D is another way. A mother can also pass HDV to her baby at birth, but this does not happen often.1,2

What are the symptoms of hepatitis D?

Hepatitis D shares many of the same symptoms as other hepatitis infections like hepatitis C. Inflammation of the liver is the main symptom. Other symptoms of hepatitis D include:1,2

  • Darker urine
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Yellow eyes and skin (jaundice)
  • Lighter stool
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Pain in the joints and stomach
  • Vomiting

Chronic hepatitis D can damage the liver and lead to more dire problems that could end in death. These include cirrhosis, liver failure, and liver cancer. In each of these conditions, the liver does not work right.1,2

How is hepatitis D detected, treated, and prevented?

Exams and blood tests are used to detect hepatitis D. Certain proteins (antibodies) that form to fight infection will show up in the blood of someone with hepatitis D. Imaging tests can help assess damage to the liver that also calls for treatment.1,2

Doctors are still trying to create treatments for hepatitis D. For now, some doctors prescribe interferon. In the cases of liver failure or cancer, doctors may suggest certain drugs, a liver transplant, or surgery.1,2

Hepatitis D can be prevented. People can avoid the actions that increase their risk of contracting the virus. Getting the hepatitis B vaccine can also protect people from hepatitis D.1,2

How does hepatitis D differ from hepatitis C?

Hepatitis D has a lot in common with hepatitis C. Both are viral infections of the liver that people can contract from the blood of someone with the disease. Both diseases can lead to the symptoms described above, chronic illness, and long-term liver damage.1-3,5

The treatments for hepatitis C and D differ. More drugs have been made to treat hepatitis C. Today’s hepatitis C drugs cure more than 90 percent of people in as little as 8 to 12 weeks. So far, little treatment and no cure exists for hepatitis D.1,2,5

Preventive steps for both hepatitis C and D are mostly the same. But no vaccine exists to protect people from hepatitis C. People can get the hepatitis B vaccine to guard against hepatitis D.1,2,5

The number of people with each disease differs too. Hepatitis C affects a lot more people in the United States than does hepatitis D. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 2 million Americans have hepatitis C.1,2,5

While hepatitis D affects fewer people in the United States, knowing about it can still help you. When you have knowledge, you can take the right steps to prevent and fight this disease. You can also bring up any concerns about hepatitis D with your doctor. They can assess your health, order tests, and prescribe treatment if needed.

Have you been diagnosed with hepatitis D? Share your experiences.

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