Viral Hepatitis: General Information

Viral hepatitis is a term commonly used for diseases that produce similar signs and symptoms, but are caused by different viruses. At least five types of hepatitis viruses exist. The most common in the United States are hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. Hepatitis D (delta) is an incomplete virus that requires the helper function of Hepatitis B to replicate. Hepatitis E is rare in the United States. Viral hepatitis can lead to major liver damage and even death. A person who has become infected with one type of hepatitis can, become infected with another type because the viruses are not the same. Blood tests are available to accurately diagnose each type of hepatitis. Hepatitis A and hepatitis B can be prevented by vaccination. Almost everyone is at some risk of getting viral hepatitis, but certain factors are associated with an increased risk. Are you, or someone you know, at risk?

What is Hepatitis?
‘hepa’ = liver
‘titis’ = inflammation

Hepatitis is a term used to describe inflammation of the liver. Viral hepatitis is inflammation of the liver caused by a viral infection.

A drawing of a human liver with text indicating the ways it can be damaged, including immunologic damage, infections (viruses, bacteria, fungi, protozoa), and toxic damage (alcohol, drugs, poison/chemicals).

Function of the Liver:

  • digestion – produces bile which breaks down fat
  • metabolism – converts food into nutrients
  • excretion – removes waste from the body
  • detoxification – transforms toxic products into less toxic substances
  • storage – vitamins, minerals and sugars