Medically reviewed on January 12, 2022. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
Hepatitis simply refers to inflammation of the liver, which can occur for various reasons, from autoimmune issues to alcohol abuse. However, when most people talk about hepatitis, they mean the common viral hepatitis infections that lead to inflammation in the liver and subsequent health issues associated with the liver. The five most common of these viruses are hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E .
The most common of those five are hepatitis B and C, and they are similar in a lot of ways. Both are bloodborne pathogens, meaning they primarily travel and transmit via direct blood-to-blood contact. Both can also cause severe liver damage and/or liver failure in patients. When combined, both hepatitis B and C make up about 80 percent of liver cancer cases in the entire world . Understanding the differences between these two viruses can help you determine the best steps for treatment and managing your health.
Hepatitis B is the most common liver infection in the world. Globally, hepatitis B has infected about 350 million people. In the United States, there are roughly 0.8 million cases. It is responsible for more liver-related cancer and deaths than hepatitis C .
Hepatitis B infection is also considerably more contagious. Some statistics suggest that it might be five to ten times more infectious than hepatitis C. Part of that comes from how stable the virus is, which contributes to its ability to survive on surfaces for longer periods of time .
While it is not strictly a sexually transmitted infection, you can get the hepatitis B virus (HBV) through sexual contact. As mentioned, it travels easily through blood, but it can also be transmitted through semen and vaginal fluids. This means that you can potentially get it from anal, vaginal, or oral sex, along with any exposure to infected blood .
Hepatitis B is considerably more preventable than hepatitis C. Along with safer sex, a hepatitis B vaccine exists to largely protect most people from infection. There is no hepatitis C vaccine .
Hepatitis B infection typically does not show any noticeable symptoms. The infection typically progresses gradually over time. Early symptoms may resemble the flu. If you do experience symptoms, they will typically appear six weeks to six months after initial exposure, and they usually go away after a few weeks . Common symptoms include:
About 1 in 20 people develop chronic hepatitis B, which increases the risk of passing the virus to others and the chance of developing more severe issues, like liver cancer or liver cirrhosis .
There are about 170 million cases of hepatitis C virus in the world. About 2.4 million Americans have hepatitis C . While hepatitis C is less common globally, it is considerably more prominent in the U.S. It is currently the primary cause of liver transplants and liver cirrhosis in the country .
While it is possible to pass hep C through sex, it is rare. Instead, hepatitis C spreads almost entirely via blood and most often comes from sharing syringes and needles. It can also come from piercing or tattoo needles and surgical instruments that haven’t been properly sterilized. Rarely, mothers can pass the virus to their babies during birth .
Similar to hepatitis B, hepatitis C infection doesn’t always exhibit any noticeable symptoms. If you do show symptoms, they usually appear four to 12 weeks after initial exposure, and the symptoms typically overlap with the symptoms of hepatitis B .
Unlike hepatitis B, most people with hepatitis C develop chronic infections. These infections rarely show symptoms until they have been diagnosed with advanced chronic liver disease .
Hepatitis B and C have many similarities, but they are different infections. Neither Hepatitis B nor C has known cures, but you can manage them with medication. Testing for hepatitis B or C can help you manage and possibly prevent serious health problems such as liver failure, liver disease, or even liver cancer that can lead to a liver transplant. The Everlywell Hepatitis C Test can help you determine if you have a hepatitis C infection from the comfort of your own home.
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2. Viral Hepatitis in the United States: Data and Trends. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. URL. Accessed January 12, 2022.
3. Hepatitis B and C. Yale Medicine. URL. Accessed January 12, 2022.
4. Hepatitis B. Planned Parenthood. URL. Accessed January 12, 2022.
5. What are the signs and symptoms of hepatitis B? Planned Parenthood. URL. Accessed January 12, 2022.