What is hepatitis D?
Hepatitis D virus, also known as Delta, is a virus that attacks the liver. Hepatitis D virus infection can only occur in people who have hepatitis B virus infection. About 5 percent of people with hepatitis B will also have infection with the hepatitis D virus.
People with hepatitis B virus infection may contract hepatitis D virus at the same time (co-infection), or can contract hepatitis D virus after already developing chronic hepatitis B virus infection (superinfection).
The virus is transmitted when a person comes in contact with infected blood or body fluids. A mother who is infected with hepatitis D virus can pass the infection to her newborn during birth.
Signs and symptoms
Infection with hepatitis D virus can worsen symptoms of hepatitis B virus infection or hepatitis B-associated liver disease, and can cause symptoms to occur in people who previously did not have symptoms of hepatitis B virus infection.
The symptoms of hepatitis D virus infection are similar to those experienced with hepatitis B virus infection, and can include:
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
- Gastrointestinal (GI) issues such as nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
- Dark-colored urine
- Joint pain
People with chronic hepatitis B — who then acquire hepatitis D — will usually develop chronic hepatitis D virus infection.
Hepatitis D cannot be contracted on its own. Your child can only contract hepatitis D if she already is infected with hepatitis B
Testing and diagnosis
Hepatitis D is diagnosed with a blood test. If your child has hepatitis D, the anti-delta antibody in your child's blood will be positive.
There is no specific treatment for hepatitis D. A person who is infected with hepatitis D will receive the same treatment they would for their hepatitis B, including Interferon alpha and Lamivudine, the first two approved treatments for children in the U.S.
Treatment can take several years to complete, and not all children are candidates for treatment. Your child's hepatologist (liver specialist) will determine if your child is a candidate for treatment based on laboratory test results and a physical examination.
Hepatitis D can be prevented, in most cases, by ensuring your child receives the hepatitis B vaccine. Your child can not contract hepatitis D unless she has — or had — hepatitis B.
It is important to avoid exposure to hepatitis-infected blood and bodily fluids, and not engage in risky behaviors that can increase the chance of contracting the virus.
Reviewed by Jessica W. Wen, MD