Hepatitis D

What is Hepatitis D?

General description/ Overview

Hepatitis D is also called HDV, delta agent, delta hepatitis or hepatitis delta. This is a complication that only affects a small amount of people already carrying the hepatitis B virus.

This is a contagious disease only to people who have hepatitis B and only if they have contact with blood, mucus or other body fluids from a person with HDV. Very rarely does a mother with hepatitis B give her fetus hepatitis B and D.

Both hepatitis B and D are preventable through vaccines for hepatitis B. Vaccines can be given at any age, including childhood. People at risk of getting hepatitis B (and therefore hepatitis D) are intravenous drug users, people who need blood transfusions and men engaging in unprotected sex with other men.

What are the Symptoms of Hepatitis D?

Common symptoms for hepatitis D are a worsening of hepatitis B symptoms. These include feeling weak, feeling tired all of the time, passing dark urine, abdominal pain, yellowing of the skin, yellowing of the whites of the eyes, nausea with or without vomiting, loss of appetite, joint pain similar to arthritis pain.

It is possible to carry the hepatitis B virus without having any symptoms – until hepatitis D is developed and then symptoms come on strong.

Never ignore these symptoms. If ignored, the liver could be permanently damaged to the point where it fails and a transplant is needed.

Hepatitis D Causes

The infection known as hepatitis D is understood to be caused by HDV. Hepatitis D is very contagious and spreads via direct contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids.

Some of the transmission fluids include:

  • Vaginal fluids
  • Urine
  • Semen
  • Blood
  • Birth (from mother to the baby)

Once a person contracts hepatitis D, they can infect other people even if the infected person has not shown symptoms, as the disease is still present even when a person is asymptomatic. However, a person can only contract hepatitis D if they have already contracted hepatitis B. According to data from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, around 5% of those with hepatitis B eventually develop hepatitis D. Also, it is possible to develop hepatitis D and contract hepatitis B at the same time.

How is Hepatitis D Treated?

Medications useful for clearing up symptoms of hepatitis B are mostly worthless for helping clear up symptoms of hepatitis D. One medication showing promise is alpha interferon which a patient may need to take up to 1 year. Liver enzymes are also prescribed.

According to the U. S. National Library of Medicine, 9 out of 10 patients with hepatitis D recover in 2 or 3 weeks. The unlucky 1 out of 10 patients will develop chronic hepatitis, which is difficult to treat.

A liver transplant is needed only in the worst cases where the liver is too damaged to function.

Hepatitis D Prevention

The only effective way of preventing hepatitis D is not contracting hepatitis B.

Taking the following steps will reduce a person’s risk of contracting hepatitis B:

  • Getting the hepatitis B vaccine is a must for all children. An adult at high risk of infection, such as people who abuse IV drugs, should be vaccinated as well. The vaccinations are typically delivered in a succession of three injections over a six-month time period.
  • Always practice safe sex and use a condom during intercourse with every sexual partner. Avoid engaging in unprotected sex unless you are sure your partner is free of infection with hepatitis as well as other sexually transmitted infections.
  • Avoid using illegal drugs or stop if possible, especially when it comes to injecting drugs like heroin and cocaine. Those who find it difficult to stop should use only new sterile needs with every injection and never share needles.
  • Only get tattoos and piercings from professional practitioners and artists. Also, make sure they use clean equipment and fresh needles.
Last Reviewed:
October 09, 2016
Last Updated:
January 11, 2018