Hepatitis D (delta) is the least common but most severe form of viral hepatitis. It is very uncommon in New Zealand. It is caused by the hepatitis D virus that requires the helper function of the hepatitis B virus to multiply. Therefore only found in people who are infected with hepatitis B.
What are the symptoms?
The signs and symptoms of hepatitis D are the same as other f orms of hepatitis: Dark urine; Pale faeces/poo; Jaundice; Loss of appetite; Abdominal pain and tenderness; Nausea and vomiting;
Fever. It takes 2 to 8 weeks to develop the illness after exposure.
How serious is the illness?
Hepatitis D infection can occur at the same time as hepatitis B infection. People who are co-infected with hepatitis B and D viruses may experience a more serious illness but most will clear the hepatitis D and never develop chronic (long term) hepatitis D infection.
Hepatitis D infection can also occur as a super-infection in people who already have chronic hepatitis B. People with chronic hepatitis B who are infected with the hepatitis D virus (super-infection) usually develop chronic hepatitis D infection and have a higher risk of developing chronic liver disease.
How is it diagnosed?
Diagnosis of hepatitis D infection is made by a blood test that detects antibodies.
How is it caught or spread?
Hepatitis D is spread in similar ways to hepatitis B because the virus is found in blood. Therefore, whenever blood from an infected person enters the bloodstream of a person who is not immune there is the risk of transmission. For example hepatitis D infection can occur through sharing injecting equipment, or through needle-stick or sharps injuries. It is less common for hepatitis D to be spread through sexual contact, or from mother to baby compared to hepatitis B.
How is it treated?
There is no specific treatment for hepatitis D. Research indicates that the medication used to treat hepatitis B has a limited effect on the activity of hepatitis D virus.
How can it be prevented?
Hepatitis D can be prevented like hepatitis B by the following measures: Vaccination and screening programmes; Safe handling of body fluids; Safe sex practices; Using sterile equipment for injections, skin piercing, cutting etc. Managing cases and contacts to prevent spread; Occupational policies in the health sector to avoid transmission; Educating people especially those in at risk groups.
Co-infection with hepatitis D can be prevented by a course of hepatitis B vaccinations. There is no medication or vaccine to prevent hepatitis D super-infection in people with chronic hepatitis B. Prevention of hepatitis D super-infection can only be achieved through education to reduce exposure to infectious blood.