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Hepatitis D (Delta agent)

Delta agent

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Causes

Hepatitis D virus (HDV) is found only in people who carry the hepatitis B virus. HDV may make liver disease worse in people who have either recent (acute) or long-term (chronic) hepatitis B. It can even cause symptoms in people who carry hepatitis B virus but who never had symptoms.

Hepatitis D infects about 15 million people worldwide. It occurs in a small number of people who carry hepatitis B.

Risk factors include:

  • Abusing intravenous (IV) or injection drugs
  • Being infected while pregnant (the mother can pass the virus to the baby)
  • Carrying the hepatitis B virus
  • Men having sexual intercourse with other men
  • Receiving many blood transfusions

Definition

Hepatitis D is a viral infection caused by the hepatitis D virus (previously called the Delta agent). It causes symptoms only in people who also have hepatitis B infection.

Exams and Tests

You may need the following tests:

Outlook (Prognosis)

People with an acute HDV infection most often get better over 2 to 3 weeks. Liver enzyme levels return to normal within 16 weeks.

About 1 in 10 of those who are infected may develop long-term (chronic) liver inflammation (hepatitis).

Possible Complications

Complications may include:

  • Chronic active hepatitis
  • Acute liver failure

Prevention

Steps to prevent the condition include:

  • Detect and treat hepatitis B infection as soon as possible to help prevent hepatitis D.
  • Avoid intravenous (IV) drug abuse. If you use IV drugs, avoid sharing needles.
  • Get vaccinated against hepatitis B.

Adults who are at high risk for hepatitis B infection and all children should get this vaccine. If you do not get Hepatitis B, you cannot get Hepatitis D.

Symptoms

Hepatitis D may make the symptoms of hepatitis B worse.

Symptoms may include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Fatigue
  • Jaundice
  • Joint pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Treatment

Many of the medicines used to treat hepatitis B are not helpful for treating hepatitis D.

You may receive a medicine called alpha interferon for up to 12 months if you have a long-term HDV infection. A liver transplant for end-stage chronic hepatitis B may be effective.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of hepatitis B.

Review Date: 8/2/2016
Reviewed By: Raymond S. Koff, MD, Clinical Professor of Medicine, University of Connecticut School of Medicine, Farmington, CT. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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