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Acute Hepatitis


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Reviewed/Revised May 2023
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What is acute hepatitis?

Acute hepatitis is inflammation (swelling) of your liver that comes on quickly and goes away quickly. Acute hepatitis sometimes becomes chronic hepatitis Chronic Hepatitis Chronic hepatitis is inflammation (swelling) of the liver that lasts for 6 months or longer. Chronic hepatitis usually develops from acute hepatitis but you may not know you had acute hepatitis... read more . Chronic hepatitis lasts a long time.

  • Acute hepatitis is often caused by a viral infection

  • Your symptoms can range from mild and flu-like to severe and life-threatening

  • Doctors do blood tests to see if you have acute hepatitis and what virus is the cause

  • You can get vaccines (shots) to prevent some types of viral hepatitis

  • Certain activities, like getting tattoos or piercings, sharing needles to inject drugs, or having multiple sex partners, raise your risk of getting hepatitis

What causes acute hepatitis?

  • There are 5 types of hepatitis virus that can cause acute viral hepatitis, and they're known as A, B, C, D, and E

  • Hepatitis A virus is the most common cause of acute viral hepatitis

  • Hepatitis B virus is the second most common cause

The different hepatitis viruses spread in different ways:

  • Hepatitis A: through water or food contaminated by stool (poop) from infected people

  • Hepatitis B: through contact with blood or body fluids from infected people, for example, by having sex or sharing needles (to use drugs or get tattoos)—also, a pregnant woman can pass hepatitis B to her baby

  • Hepatitis C: through contact with blood from infected people, for example, by sharing needles—having sex usually doesn't transmit hepatitis C

  • Hepatitis D: Same as hepatitis B

  • Hepatitis E: Same as hepatitis A

What are the symptoms of acute hepatitis?

You may have no symptoms at all, or you may have symptoms like:

Many symptoms usually go away in 3 to 10 days, and you start to feel better. The yellowing of your skin and eyes can last 2 to 4 weeks.

What are the complications of acute hepatitis?

How can doctors tell if I have acute hepatitis?

Doctors will:

  • Do blood tests to see how well your liver is working and check for hepatitis viruses

  • Occasionally, do a biopsy of your liver by taking a sample of it with a needle to look at under a microscope

How do doctors treat acute hepatitis?

If you have mild acute viral hepatitis:

  • You'll probably recover in 4 to 8 weeks with no special treatment

  • Your doctor will ask you not to drink alcohol or take certain drugs until you're healthy

If you have severe acute viral hepatitis, you may need:

How can I prevent acute hepatitis?

You can get shots (vaccines) to prevent infections from hepatitis A or B. People in China also can get shots (vaccines) for hepatitis E.

If you have been in contact with someone with hepatitis A or B and have not been vaccinated, you can get a shot (vaccine or immune globulin) that helps prevent the infection.

You can also help prevent acute viral hepatitis if you:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly before you touch food

  • Don’t share toothbrushes, razors, or other things that could get blood on them from other people

  • Practice safe sex, such as using a condom

  • Limit the number of people you have sex with

  • Don’t share needles to inject drugs

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