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Delta agent (Hepatitis D)

Definition

Delta agent is a type of virus called hepatitis D that causes symptoms only in people who also have a hepatitis B infection.

Alternative Names

Hepatitis D virus

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Hepatitis D virus (HDV) is only found in people who carry the hepatitis B virus. HDV may make a recent (acute) hepatitis B infection or an existing long-term (chronic) hepatitis B liver disease worse. 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 5% 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

Symptoms

Hepatitis D may make the symptoms of hepatitis B more severe.

Symptoms may include:

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

Signs and tests

Treatment

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

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

Support Groups

Expectations (prognosis)

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

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

Complications

  • Chronic active hepatitis
  • Fulminant hepatitis

Calling your health care provider

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you have symptoms of hepatitis B.

Prevention

Prompt diagnosis and treatment of hepatitis B infection can help prevent hepatitis D.

Avoid intravenous drug abuse. If you use IV drugs, avoid sharing needles.

A vaccine is available to prevent hepatitis B. Adults who are at high risk for hepatitis B infection, and all children should consider getting this vaccine.

References

Perrillo R. Hepatitis B and D. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2010:chap 78.

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    Review Date: 11/23/2010

    Review By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

    The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2010 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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