So what’s the difference?
There are five different strains of the hepatitis virus. Even though they are distinguishable, the sheer complexity of the virus makes it difficult to understand the differences and nuances.
What is hepatitis?
Hepatitis translates to, “inflammation of the liver”. Many different situations can cause the liver to become inflamed. These include too much alcohol, injury, autoimmune response or a reaction to a virus/bacteria. However, if you are sexually active and don’t practice safe sex, hepatitis is likely the cause of your liver inflammation. The five types of hepatitis viruses are A, B, C, D and E. Even though they’re all hepatitus, they vary from infection to infection. Some forms of hepatitis can lead to fibrosis, cirrhosis, liver failure and at times liver cancer. When the liver becomes damaged, its ability to function gets worse making it harder for the body to filter out toxins.
Hepatitis B vs. Hepatitis C
Hepatitis B and C are both blood-borne pathogens. This means that their primary form of transmission is through direct blood-to-blood contact with an infected person. Also, both hep B and C can cause chronic infections that lead the liver toward serious liver disease. Hep B is typically spread from mother-to-child during birth, and hep c is typically spread from the use of dirty intravenous needles.
Although there is a vaccine, hep b is the world’s most common liver infection. An estimated 292 million people around the world are living with chronic hep B. Hep C tends to get more media attention and therefore research funding, however, hep B is considerably more common and leads to many more deaths worldwide.
When combined, hep B and hep C account for 80% of the world’s liver cancer cases. Studies have shown that those suffering from chronic hep B are more likely to die, from liver-related complication, than those suffering from hep C.
When infected with hep C, most patients develop cirrhosis before liver cancer. There have been cases of hep B liver cancer that developed without any signs of cirrhosis, which makes it extremely difficult to predict the virus’ life cycle and impacts on the body. Without any signs, it is very difficult to screen for liver cancer.
Hep B is approximately 5-10 times more infectious than hep C, and also incredibly stable. Hep B can survive on surfaces outside of the body for up to seven days if not properly disinfected. Hep B has also been shown to survive in extreme temperatures. Hep C can only survive outside the body for short periods of time in a ‘room temperature’ environment.
Hep B and hep C also attack the cells they invade differently. Hep c operates similarly to other common viruses; it enters a cell and then begins replicating itself on its quest to infect other healthy cells. The hep B virus reproduces the same way, but with a covalently closed circular DNA. CccDNA (covalently closed circular DNA) is a unique structure only a handful of viruses are equipped with. Hep B’s cccDNA permanently implants itself into a healthy cell’s DNA. When this happens the cccDNA resides within an important area of the cell, the nucleus, and can remain here even if an infected person’s hep B antigen levels are undetectable. This means that a person with chronic hep B may have a risk of reactivation even after a long stretch of time.
The complex nature of cccDNA is one of the main reasons that it has been difficult in finding a cure. The position of the cccDNA makes it difficult to isolate and destroy without damage to the rest of the cell.
However, hep C does have a cure. The antiviral pill was approved by the FDA in 3013. This antiviral pill is taken once a day over the course of 8-12 weeks.
People who are living with chronic hep B are at risk of developing hepatitis D. Only people who have hep B can contract hep D. Hep D is considered the most severe form of hepatitis because of its potential to lead quickly to severe liver disease. Of the estimated 292 million people diagnosed with chronic hep B, around 15-20 million are also living with hep D. There are currently no FDA approved treatments for hep D. There are however, ongoing clinical trials working towards a potential treatment.
Hepatitis B/C Coinfection
It is possible to have both hep B and hep C at the same time. Typically, the hep C virus will appear more dominant and hep B will become almost undetectable in the bloodstream. Before being treated for hep C is it important to get tested for hep B. This is to avoid in serious damage to the liver during treatment.
The hep B vaccine is the safest and best way to protect yourself from infection. To avoid hep C there are simple precautions you can take daily like:
- Not sharing personal items like razors or toothbrushes
- Washing your hands
- Disinfecting surfaces