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Page last reviewed: 13/07/2011

Hepatitis occurs when there is inflammation (swelling) of the liver, often caused by a virus.

Some types of hepatitis are notifiable conditions. This means that when the condition is diagnosed, the doctor making the diagnosis must inform the Medical Officer of Health. Read more about notifying infectious diseases here on the Health Protection Surveillance Centre Website.

Different types of hepatitis are summarised below with links to more information.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A, caused by the hepatitis A virus, is the most common type of viral hepatitis. It occurs in Ireland, but is more common in other countries where sanitation and sewage disposal are poor.

Hepatitis A is usually caught by putting something in your mouth that has been contaminated with the stools (faeces) of someone with hepatitis A.

It is usually an acute (short-term) infection. Although the symptoms can be unpleasant, it is rarely serious. Vaccinations for hepatitis A are available.

For more information, go to Health A-Z: hepatitis A

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B, caused by the hepatitis B virus, is present in body fluids such as blood, saliva, semen and vaginal fluid. It can be passed from person to person through unprotected sex or by sharing needles to inject drugs, for example.

Ireland has a low prevalence of Hepatitis B. The vast majority of people who are infected with hepatitis B are able to fight off the virus and fully recover from the infection within a couple of months. Vaccinations for hepatitis B are available.

For more information, see Health A-Z: hepatitis B

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C, caused by the hepatitis C virus, is present in the blood and, to a much lesser extent, the saliva and semen or vaginal fluid of an infected person. It is particularly concentrated in the blood, so it is usually transmitted through blood-to-blood contact. The most common way you can become infected is by sharing contaminated needles to inject drugs.

The course of hepatitis C is unpredictable: some people fight off the infection and experience no ill health. Others may develop liver damage, which sometimes progresses to cirrhosis (severe scarring of the liver) and even liver failure. There is currently no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C.

Treatment with drugs called interferon and ribavirin can clear the infection in approximately half of those who are infected, but there are significant side effects.

For more information, see Health A-Z: hepatitis C

Rarer types of hepatitis

Hepatitis D

Hepatitis D, caused by the hepatitis D virus, is only present in people already infected with hepatitis B (it needs the presence of the hepatitis B virus to be able to survive in your body). Infection rates in Ireland are low.

Hepatitis E

Hepatitis E, caused by the hepatitis E virus, is very rare in Ireland and is generally a mild and acute infection. It is caught by putting something in your mouth that has been contaminated with the faeces of someone with hepatitis E. Person-to-person transmission is rare.

Autoimmune hepatitis

Autoimmune hepatitis is a very rare cause of chronic (long-term) hepatitis. The white blood cells attack the liver, causing chronic inflammation and damage. This can lead to more serious problems, such as liver failure. The reason for this reaction is unknown. 

About seven in 10 cases are in women, usually between the ages of 15 and 40. However, in older age groups, men tend to be affected more than women.

Symptoms include tiredness, pains in your abdomen, joint aches, jaundice (yellow tinge to your skin and whites of your eyes) and cirrhosis. See your GP immediately if you show any of these symptoms so that tests can be carried out for an early diagnosis.

Treatment for autoimmune hepatitis involves medicines that help to suppress the immune system and reduce inflammation. Steroid medication (prednisolone) can gradually reduce your swelling over several weeks, and can then be used to control your symptoms.

Useful Links

If you have suffered an injury (needle stick or other sharps injury, sexual exposure, human bites, exposure of broken skin or of mucous membranes) where there is a risk of transmission of blood borne viruses and other infections, further information on how to manage your situation is at: www.emitoolkit.ie

Content provided by NHS Choices www.nhs.uk and adapted for Ireland by the Health A-Z.

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