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The ABCs of Viral Hepatitis

The word “hepatitis” means “inflammation” of the liver. Hepatitis can be caused by many things such as a physical injury, bacterial infections, adverse drug interactions, and viruses.

There are currently 5 viruses identified (hepatitis A, B, C, D and E) that specifically attack the liver and cause “viral hepatitis” or inflammation of the liver due to a virus. All of the hepatitis viruses cause a new or “acute” infection. But only the hepatitis B and C viruses can result in a “chronic” infection that increases the risk of a person developing cirrhosis, liver failure or liver cancer.


Type of Viral Hepatitis

   Mode of Transmission / Prevention

  Hepatitis A (HAV)

  • Transmitted through contaminated food and water.
  • Recovery from an acute infection provides lifelong protection against a future exposure to HAV.
  • There is no chronic infection associated with HAV.
  • Good personal hygiene and proper sanitation can help prevent hepatitis A.
  • A safe vaccine is available for babies > 12 months, and children and adults.
  • The hepatitis A vaccine is recommended for people with hepatitis B.
  • No drug treatment is needed for an HAV infection.

  Hepatitis B (HBV)

  • Transmitted from an infected person to their newborn during childbirth, through other contact with infected blood (unsterile needles, shared personal items such as razors or toothbrushes), or unprotected sex.
  • A chronic infection can occur in 90% of infants exposed to HBV, up to 50% of young children, and 10% of adults.
  • HBV is the primary cause of liver cancer, which is the 2nd leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide.
  • There is a vaccine for newborns, children and adults.
  • There are drug treatments but no cure for HBV.

  Hepatitis C (HCV)

  • Transmitted through infected blood, unprotected sex, and contaminated or unsterile needles.
  • A chronic infection can occur in 55–85% of infected adults.
  • HCV is the leading cause for liver transplants in the U.S.
  • There is no vaccine.
  • A cure for HCV was discovered and approved in 2013.

  Hepatitis Delta (HDV)


  • Transmitted through infected blood, unprotected sex, unsterile or contaminated needles and from infected woman to her newborn.
  • HDV infection is only possible if a person is already infected with hepatitis B or a person can be infected with both viruses at the same time.
  • A HDV co-infection with hepatitis B results in more serious and rapid liver damage.
  • The hepatitis B vaccine can prevent HDV.

  Hepatitis E (HEV)

  • Transmitted through contaminated water, food (particularly pork and shellfish), and blood products.
  • There is no chronic infection associated with HEV.
  • There is no approved vaccine in the USA, although China has produced and licensed a vaccine.
  • There is no drug treatment for HEV.