Hepatitis B and C are two strains of the hepatitis virus, which causes liver inflammation. A person may acquire hepatitis B from the bodily fluids of someone who has the infection, while hepatitis C usually transmits via blood-to-blood contact.

Alongside hepatitis B and B, other strains include hepatitis C and D. The most common types of hepatitis are A, B, and C. Hepatitis A is usually a short-term infection, while hepatitis B and C can cause long-term, or chronic, infections.

This article examines the difference between hepatitis B and C, available treatment options, and the outlook for people who have a hepatitis infection.

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Hepatitis is a viral infection that affects the liver.

Hepatitis B and hepatitis C are both viral infections that attack the liver and have similar symptoms.

The most significant difference between hepatitis B and hepatitis C is that people may get hepatitis B from contact with the bodily fluids of a person who has the infection.

Hepatitis C usually only transmits through blood-to-blood contact. This can occur through:

  • medical procedures
  • childbirth
  • exposure to contaminated needles (for example, via injectable drug use, tattoos, body piercings, or in a healthcare setting)
  • sexual contact

Neither hepatitis B nor C transmits through coughing, breast milk, sharing food with, or hugging a person who has the infection.

Many people who have hepatitis are not aware of it until the infection has advanced.

Read on for more information about hepatitis B and hepatitis C.

Hepatitis B

Exposure to the hepatitis B virus can cause an acute infection within the first 6 months. This short-term illness causes flu-like symptoms.

Although it is possible to acquire hepatitis B through contact with blood, transmission often occurs through bodily fluids.

Hepatitis B transmission may occur through sex, and a female can pass the infection to a baby during childbirth.

Some people may clear the virus from their system, but others will develop chronic hepatitis B.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the younger a person is when they contract a hepatitis B infection, the more likely they will have a chronic infection.

For instance, an estimated 90% of infants with the virus will develop a chronic infection.

Additional key facts about the hepatitis B virus from the CDC include:

  • An estimated 880,000 people in the United States have chronic hepatitis B.
  • Around 296 million people worldwide have hepatitis B.
  • Transmission often occurs due to:
    • childbirth
    • having sex with a person who has the virus without using a condom or other barrier method
    • sharing needles or medical equipment that involves blood, such as glucose monitors
    • sharing personal items, such as razors or toothbrushes

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C can also cause an acute infection. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), an estimated 75–85% of people with acute hepatitis C will also develop chronic hepatitis C.

However, about 40% of people with hepatitis C do not know they have it.

Additional key facts about the hepatitis C virus include:

  • An estimated 3.2 million people in the United States live with hepatitis C.
  • About 75% of those with hepatitis C were born between 1945 and 1965.
  • Transmission occurs due to exposure to affected blood, which can occur through sharing needles, poor infection control, or childbirth.

People who received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992 could also have contracted the infection during this procedure. After 1992, doctors began screening blood for hepatitis C before giving people blood transfusions.

If a person has risk factors for either form of hepatitis, such as sharing needles, a history of sex without barrier methods, or a blood transfusion before 1992, they should speak with a doctor about testing. The CDC also recommends hepatitis B testing for all adults ages 18 and up at least once and for pregnant people during each pregnancy.

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Fever and fatigue are potential symptoms of hepatitis B and C.

Hepatitis B and C can cause similar symptoms in both the acute and chronic infection stages.

Hepatitis B symptoms in the acute phase usually occur within 6 months of the initial virus exposure.

These symptoms can include:

  • dark yellow urine
  • fatigue
  • fever
  • joint pain
  • nausea
  • pale or gray stools
  • vomiting
  • yellowing of the skin or eyes, called jaundice

Some very young children with hepatitis B do not experience symptoms.

About 15–25% of people with hepatitis B develop chronic liver disease, which can include:

Acute hepatitis C can cause the same symptoms as acute hepatitis B infections. However, hepatitis C is more likely than hepatitis B to become a chronic condition.

Of those with chronic hepatitis C, the CDC estimates that 5–25% will develop cirrhosis, which is liver scarring.

Many people may not recognize they have hepatitis B or C until they receive screening for other blood disorders.

Others may have symptoms that indicate liver issues, such as:

Doctors treat hepatitis B and hepatitis C differently.

Hepatitis B treatment

Not all cases of hepatitis B need treatment. A liver specialist can help determine if a person is a suitable candidate for treatment.

There is currently no medication available specifically for acute hepatitis B. Treatment recommendations focus on:

  • getting plenty of rest
  • eating a nutritious diet
  • drinking plenty of fluids

This helps with managing symptoms and preventing dehydration from vomiting and diarrhea.

Doctors can treat chronic hepatitis B with antiviral or immune-modulating drugs such as:

  • entecavir (Baraclude)
  • tenofovir (Viread, Vemlidy)
  • adefovir (Hepsera)
  • telbivudine (Tyzeka, Sebivo)
  • pegylated interferon (Pegasys)

Most of these drugs require a person to take them long term, whether for 6 months, 1 year, or longer.

Hepatitis C treatment

Since 2013, doctors have been able to prescribe medications to treat and even cure hepatitis C in most people. These antiviral medications include:

  • daclatasvir (Daklinza)
  • elbasvir/grazoprevir (Zepatier)
  • glecaprevir and pibrentasvir(Mavyret)
  • ledipasvir/sofosbuvir (Harvoni)
  • ombitasvir/paritaprevir/ritonavir (Technivie)
  • ombitasvir/paritaprevir/ritonavir/dasabuvir (Viekira Pak, Viekira XR)
  • simeprevir (Olysio)
  • sofosbuvir (Sovaldi)
  • sofosbuvir/velpatasvir (Epclusa)
  • sofosbuvir/velpatasvir/voxilaprevir (Vosevi)

Other medications, such as ribavirin, may also be added to a hepatitis B treatment regimen.

A doctor will prescribe different medications depending on the genotype, or variation, of hepatitis C that a person has. It is usually necessary to take these drugs for 8–24 weeks.

Lifestyle guidelines

As a part of hepatitis treatment, a doctor may also recommend practices that can promote liver health.

Possible recommendations include:

  • abstaining from drinking alcohol as it can damage the liver
  • avoiding medications that the liver filters, which include nutritional and herbal supplements
  • eating a balanced diet to promote overall health
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Tattoo parlors must maintain good hygiene to prevent hepatitis transmission.

A vaccine exists for hepatitis B. The vaccine stimulates the body to make antibodies, or immune cells, that can fight the hepatitis B infection.

People at risk of exposure to hepatitis B, infants, and people with an HIV infection should get the hepatitis B vaccine.

Many schools and public health initiatives routinely offer the hepatitis B vaccine to children.

There is no vaccine available for hepatitis C. However, certain lifestyle practices can help prevent the transmission of both viruses, including:

  • refraining from sharing needles
  • using a barrier method during sex, especially if a person has more than one sexual partner
  • training relevant healthcare workers on needle safety
  • ensuring that tattoo parlors use thorough cleaning and safety practices
  • avoiding sharing personal care items, such as toothbrushes or razors

Both hepatitis B and C infections can cause short- and long-term effects. However, hepatitis C is more likely to turn into a chronic condition than hepatitis B.

A person can transmit hepatitis B through bodily fluids, while the transmission of hepatitis C typically occurs through exposure to affected blood.

A person can reduce their risk of hepatitis B transmission by getting the hepatitis B vaccine. Doctors can often treat chronic hepatitis C.

A person should consult a doctor about testing if they have risk factors for either form of hepatitis, such as sharing needles, a history of having sex without barrier methods, or a blood transfusion before 1992. The CDC also recommends all adults receive hepatitis B testing at least once, and pregnant people during each pregnancy.