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What is the Difference Between Hepatitis a and B?

By H. Lo
Updated May 17, 2024
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The main difference between hepatitis A and B is that hepatitis B is a more serious infection. Hepatitis is an illness in which the liver is inflamed through various infections. These infections include viruses such as the hepatitis A virus (HAV) and the hepatitis B virus (HBV). Both HAV and HBV infect the liver, but HBV potentially causes long-term damage to the organ. In addition, these viruses are generally caused by and transmitted through different means.

Hepatitis A is the most common type of hepatitis and is found in the feces of those who are infected. It is transmitted when fecal matter comes into contact with another person’s mouth. This can happen through drinking or eating contaminated water and foods. HAV also can be transmitted through sex or, rarely, through blood transfusion. In most cases, hepatitis A is not serious, and a person who contracts the virus will heal naturally within months without any particular treatment. 

The infection of hepatitis B occurs through the transmission of HBV through bodily fluids. Unprotected sex and shared needles are examples of ways in which HBV can be transmitted; pregnant women can also pass the virus on to babies during delivery. Two types of hepatitis B exist: acute and chronic. In acute cases, the virus can be defeated by the body’s own immune system, just like the hepatitis A virus. In chronic cases, a hepatitis B infection can lead to long-term illnesses such as cirrhosis and liver cancer. 

Both hepatitis A and B are highly contagious, and those who are infected should take care to not spread the virus. A person who is infected will usually not have symptoms at first. Some people might not have any symptoms at all. Those who have either type of hepatitis infection might experience similar symptoms, including abdominal pain, dark urine, fatigue, jaundice and nausea. Diagnosis of hepatitis A and B is generally done through blood tests.

Though hepatitis A and B can potentially go away without any medical treatment, vaccines can protect the body against the viruses. Those who are at a high risk or who live in high-risk areas are advised to be vaccinated. A person will be infected with hepatitis A only once, because the immune system builds up a defense against the virus after infection. No cure exists for hepatitis B, but medication can be prescribed, and in serious cases, a liver transplant might be necessary.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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