Delta agent (Hepatitis D)

Delta agent is a type of virus called hepatitis D that causes symptoms only in people who have a hepatitis B infection.

Causes

Hepatitis D virus (HDV) is only found in people who carry the hepatitis B virus. HDV may make a hepatitis B infection or existing hepatitis B liver disease worse. It can cause symptoms in people with hepatitis B virus who never had symptoms.

Hepatitis D infects about 15 million people worldwide. It occurs in 5% of people with hepatitis B.

Risk factors include:

  • Abusing intravenous (IV) drugs
  • Being infected while pregnant (the mother can pass the virus to the baby)
  • Carrying the hepatitis B virus
  • Having had a hepatitis B infection in the past
  • Men having intercourse with other men
  • Receiving many blood transfusions

Symptoms

Hepatitis D may make the symptoms of hepatitis B more severe.

Symptoms may include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Fatigue
  • Jaundice
  • Joint pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Exams and Tests

  • Anti-delta agent antibody
  • Liver biopsy
  • Liver enzymes

Treatment

Many of the medicines used to treat hepatitis B are not helpful for treating hepatitis D. See hepatitis B.

Persons with long-term HDV infection may receive a medicine called alpha interferon for up to 12 months. A liver transplant for end-stage chronic hepatitis B may be effective.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Persons with an acute HDV infection usually get better over 2 to 3 weeks. Liver enzyme levels return to normal within 16 weeks.

About 10% of those who are infected may develop long-term (chronic) liver inflammation (hepatitis).

Possible Complications

  • Chronic active hepatitis
  • Fulminant hepatitis

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you have symptoms of hepatitis B.

Prevention

Prompt recognition and treatment of hepatitis B infection can help prevent hepatitis D.

Avoid intravenous drug abuse. If you use IV drugs, avoid sharing needles.

A vaccine is available to prevent hepatitis B. It should be considered by people who are at high risk for hepatitis B infection.

Alternative Names

Hepatitis D virus