Know your Hep ABCs

27 July 2023

It’s World Hepatitis Day on 28 July, which means there’s no better time to learn all about the variants As, Bs, Cs, and even Ds.

Here’s what you need to know.

Hepatitis A

Although it’s uncommon to get Hepatitis A in Australia, it can occur. Infection is more likely to be acquired during travel to countries with poor access to clean water.

People who have had the vaccine or previously been infected are not at risk.

Hepatitis A usually spreads through contaminated food and drink. But can also spread person-to-person via faeces. Remember to wash your hands!

Most people who have Hepatitis A recover within a short time frame.

Symptoms

  • fever
  • stomach pain
  • discoloured urine
  • jaundice (yellow skin)

Hepatitis B

The global burden of Hepatitis B infection is enormous, with around 300 million people estimated to be living with chronic Hepatitis B.

It’s estimated that 1% of Australians are living with chronic Hepatitis B infection but only 75% of these people have been diagnosed.

In Australia, Hepatitis B is more common in people born in countries with high rates of the disease or who acquired it before universal infant vaccination was introduced.

Hepatitis B is transmitted through blood or infected body fluids; for example, through blood-to-blood contact (such as needle-sharing), by mother to baby transmission, or through unprotected sex.

It is not transmitted through casual contact or sharing food.

The disease can cause liver damage with scarring and long-term infection which can lead to liver cancer or liver failure.

With treatment, Hepatitis B can be suppressed, and the long-term complications prevented.

Vaccination for Hepatitis B is now offered at birth to break the cycle of mother-to-baby transmission and top-up vaccinations are available for adults who missed out on childhood vaccinations.  

It’s important to ask for a blood test if Hepatitis B is suspected as it is not always a part of routine screening.

Symptoms

  • Often there are no symptoms
  • Flare ups of the disease can cause liver pain and jaundice

Hepatitis C

You can get Hep C from contact with infected blood.

Needle sharing and the use of unsterile tattoo equipment are the most common causes of transmission.

New treatments for Hepatitis C are easy to take, can cure Hepatitis C and prevent further liver damage

Symptoms

  • Acute Hepatitis C may make you sick for a short amount of time.
    Most people will have no symptoms. About 70% of patients with acute Hepatitis C will have persistent infection (chronic hepatitis C)
  • Chronic Hepatitis C will stay in your liver for your whole life unless you take medication.
    You may not feel sick, but it will damage the liver over time and there is a risk of developing liver cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Hepatitis D

Hepatitis D only occurs in people with Hepatitis B – infection with Hepatitis B virus must be present for Hepatitis D to survive and multiply.

If you have both Hepatitis B and D, the disease can be more severe and can quickly lead to liver failure or liver cancer.

If you have Hepatitis B, its important you’re also tested for Hepatitis D.

Symptoms

  • Similar to Hepatitis B

Getting tested?

Once you’ve spoken about testing with your doctor, attend an SA Pathology Collection Centre.

When your blood arrives in the lab it will be spun at a high speed to separate the blood cells from the serum.

It’s then loaded onto an automated analyser where the serum component is tested.

Depending on the results, we may test further for additional or different Hepatitis markers.

The results are then reviewed by a scientist, and an interpretive comment is reported along with the result. The result can also be indicative of the disease stage if you are infected.

Your doctor will receive a copy of the result and contact you.

For detailed information about pathology tests and specific conditions visit pathologytestsexplained.org.au

Time for your next blood test? Find a collection centre closest to you.

To book a specialised test call us on 8222 3000.

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