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What is the difference between hepatitis B and C?

Medically reviewed by Leigh Ann Anderson, PharmD. Last updated on July 12, 2021.

Official answer

by Drugs.com

The main differences between hepatitis B and hepatitis C are:

  • A vaccine is available for prevention of hepatitis B virus (HBV) in the US and many other countries, but there is no vaccine available for hepatitis C virus (HCV). In the US, most infants receive the hepatitis B vaccine series starting at birth. Adults and other age groups may also receive it.
  • Hepatitis B and C are different viruses, and you can have both hepatitis B and hepatitis C at the same time.
  • Hepatitis B is transmitted through blood and body fluids, while hepatitis C is usually only transmitted through blood. Both viruses can be acquired in similar ways, such as using contaminated needles, accidental needle stick, tattoos and body piercing, through sexual contact, and from mother-to-baby during childbirth.
  • Chronic (long-lasting) hepatitis C is more common than chronic hepatitis B. In most cases (about 95% of the time), acute (short-lived) hepatitis B goes away on its own in about 6 months. Between 60% and 80% of people who contract hepatitis C go on to develop chronic disease that may go undiagnosed for decades. Chronic hepatitis can lead to liver damage.
  • Over 90% of people who have not received treatment for hepatitis C can be cured within 8 to 12 weeks using newer oral medications, but treatment for hepatitis B, if needed, may be long-term or lifelong.
  • There is no cure for hepatitis B, but once you recover from acute hepatitis B, you develop antibodies that protect you from the virus for life. Even after being cured with oral medications, you can still get reinfected with hepatitis C if you engage in unsafe behaviors like sharing needles or having unprotected sex.

Is everyone tested for both hepatitis B and C?

Hepatitis B

The US Centers for Disease and Control (CDC) recommends testing for certain high-risk groups for hepatitis B.

  • High-risk groups include people not born in the US, men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, and people with hepatitis C, among other groups.
  • If you think you have been exposed to hepatitis B, contact your doctor right away. A treatment is available that may reduce your risk of infection if you receive this medicine within 24 hours of exposure to the virus.

Hepatitis C

The CDC recommends that all adults 18 years and older be tested for hepatitis C at least once. Pregnant women should be tested during each pregnancy. Getting tested for hepatitis C is important, because HCV treatments can cure most people in 8 to 12 weeks. If you are at higher risk for HCV, you’ll need to be tested more frequently.

Treatments for both hepatitis B and hepatitis C are in a class called antivirals, but the medications that are used are different.

  • Treatments are not normally needed in hepatitis B as most people clear the virus on their own. When needed, oral medicines may include Baraclude (entecavir) and tenofovir (Viread, Vemlidy). Resistance has been a problem with some treatments like lamivudine.
  • Interferon is an injectable medicine approved for both HBV and HCV treatment, and may be used in more advanced disease.
  • The newer group of oral direct-acting antivirals (DAA) agents such as Harvoni (ledipasvir and sofosbuvir), Epclusa (sofosbuvir and velpatasvir) and Mavyret (glecaprevir and pibrentasvir) are highly effective medicines now available to treat and cure hepatitis C for many patients.

Related: The ABC's of Hepatitis: Get to Know This Viral Disease

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