Just as researchers were discovering that a virus could be causing a great number of cases of hepatitis, a question soon became apparent. Why did some patients have bad initial symptoms but never have liver failure while others had no initial symptoms but later developed irreversible liver failure? Scientists were scratching their heads. It was soon appreciated that there were two liver specific viruses that cause viral hepatitis so the first was named the Hepatitis A virus and the second the Hepatitis B virus. Hepatitis A could be acquired through food like shellfish, cause a moderate initial illness but had a very low risk of later liver failure. On the other hand, Hepatitis B was often transmitted person to person, especially through blood and sex, often causing no initial illness but occasionally resulting in liver failure ten to twenty years later. Understanding the differences was critical and led to the testing of all donated blood by the Red Cross.
For a long time researchers believed there was just Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B viruses. As technology has improved researchers have discovered many more viruses that primarily cause liver inflammation. Today we have discovered five distinct viruses with the rather uncreative names Hepatitis A thru E and there is growing evidence for a hepatitis F, which is confusing to say the least. The expanding number of hepatitis viruses and the growing realization of their impact is increasing awareness, but the naming creates a problem of understanding, which is why so often when people use “hepatitis” they are referring to viral hepatitis. But each of these viruses is a unique disease. And Hepatitis C may be the most dangerous of all.
Read next week’s blog as we uncover the scourge that is Hepatitis C.
Dr. Bruce Feinberg