The hepatitis alphabet

Someone just asked me why hepatitis C holds the “C” designation. The name contains the third letter of the alphabet because it’s the third type of hepatitis that was named. Before the 1990s, no one was sure it was a distinct disease, so it was called non-A and non-B hepatitis. Since then researchers have been moving up through the alphabet with diseases that inflame the liver:

  • Hepatitis A: This is transmitted through food or water that is contaminated with feces. It’s common in children and is usually a very mild disease.
  • Hepatitis B: Like hepatitis C, it is transmitted through blood. It can also be spread through sex with an infected partner.[i] Only 5 percent of cases become chronic.
  • Hepatitis C: Hep C is passed along through blood-to-blood contact. About 80% if infected people develop the serious, chronic form of the illness. 25% of those develop cirrhosis. Each year, 1 – 4% of people with cirrhosis get liver cancer.[ii]
  • Hepatitis D: This is a co-infection that occurs with Hepatitis B. It causes severe liver disease.
  • Hepatitis E: A common disease in India, hepatitis E is transmitted through feces-contaminated food and water. It worsens any type of liver disease.
  • Hepatitis F: This very rare virus was found in 1994 in patients in Western Europe and India who had undergone blood transfusions. The virus was injected into rhesus monkeys and caused hepatitis.[iii]
  • Hepatitis G: This is transmitted through blood but doesn’t do much harm to the liver.[iv]

For references, please see the Readings page.

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