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Inflammation of the liver. There are seven known types of viral hepatitis (A-G). Types A, spread mainly through food contaminated with feces, and B, transmitted sexually or by injection, cause jaundice and flulike symptoms. The hepatitis C virus spreads mostly by shared needles in intravenous drug use and can cause liver cirrhosis and cancer after a long latent period. Until recently there was no test to detect it in blood, and many people were exposed through blood transfusions. Hepatitis D becomes active only in the presence of type B; it causes severe chronic liver disease. Type E, like Type A, is transmitted by contaminated food or water; its symptoms are more severe than Type A's and can result in death. The hepatitis F virus (HFV), which was first reported in 1994, is spread like Type A and E. The hepatitis G virus (HGV), isolated in 1996, is believed to be responsible for many sexually transmitted and bloodborne cases of hepatitis. Vaccines exist for types A and B (the second also prevents type D). Drug treatment for B and C is not always effective. The other types may not need drug treatment. Chronic active hepatitis causes spidery and striated skin markings, acne, and abnormal hair growth. It results in liver tissue death (necrosis) progressing to cirrhosis. Alcoholic hepatitis, from long-term overconsumption of alcohol, can be reversed and cirrhosis prevented by early treatment including quitting or sharply reducing drinking. Other drugs can also cause noninfectious hepatitis. An autoimmune hepatitis affects mainly young women and is treated with corticosteroids to relieve symptoms.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on hepatitis, visit Britannica.com.