Infected Blood Scandal: What are the symptoms and treatments for the deadly virus hepatitis?

Hepatitis B and C affect around 500 million people around the world, causing 1.5 million deaths every year

Jabed Ahmed
Monday 20 May 2024 10:58 BST
Tory minister refuses to say if infected blood victims will get apology

A landmark inquiry investigating the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS is set to conclude on Monday.

The Infected Blood Inquiry has laid bare the scale of the failings within the health service which left tens of thousands of people in the UK infected with deadly viruses.

Between the 1970s and early 1990s, patients were given contaminated blood and blood products.

They included people who needed blood transfusions for accidents, in surgery or during childbirth, and patients with certain blood disorders.

Some 3,000 people have died and others have been left with lifelong health complications after being infected with viruses including hepatitis C and HIV.

It has been estimated that one person dies as a result of infected blood every four days.

But what exactly are the symptoms and treatments for Hepatitis?


Hepatitis C is a blood-bourne disease that is passed on through blood-to-blood contact and infects the liver. Without treatment, it can cause serious damage to the liver.

Hepatitis can also occur as a result of a viral infection or liver damage caused by alcohol.

The disease is known as the “silent killer” as some people can live with the virus for many years before realising that they are infected. But the delay in diagnosis can lead to irreparable liver damage.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), hepatitis B and C affect approximately 500 million people around the world, causing around 1.5 million deaths every year.

The Hepatitis C Trust has urged anyone who had a blood transfusion before 1991 to get tested for the virus. At-home tests can be ordered via

People were infected with HIV and hepatitis C through contaminated blood and blood products between the 1970s and early 1990s (Victoria Jones/PA)
People were infected with HIV and hepatitis C through contaminated blood and blood products between the 1970s and early 1990s (Victoria Jones/PA) (PA Archive)


Short-term hepatitis often has no noticeable symptoms, so many people do not realise they have it. However, if symptoms do develop, they can include:

  • muscle and joint pain
  • a high temperature
  • feeling and being sick
  • feeling unusually tired all the time 
  • a general sense of feeling unwell 
  • loss of appetite 
  • tummy pain
  • dark urine 
  • pale, grey-coloured faeces
  • itchy skin
  • yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice)

The NHS adds that long-term hepatitis also may not have any obvious symptoms until the liver stops working properly and may only be picked up during blood tests.

In the later stages it can cause jaundice, swelling in the legs, ankles and feet, confusion, and blood in stools or vomit.

What are the different types hepatitis?

There are a number of different types of hepatitis including A, B, C, D, E, alcoholic and autoimmune.

Hepatitis A

The NHS states that hepatitis A is caused by the hepatitis A virus.

It is typically caught by consuming food and drink contaminated with the faeces of an infected person, and is most common in countries where sanitation is poor.

Hepatitis A usually passes within a few months, although it can occasionally be severe and even life threatening.

There is no specific treatment for it, other than to relieve symptoms like pain, nausea and itching.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is caused by the hepatitis B virus, which is spread in the blood of an infected person, the NHS states.

It is a common infection worldwide and is usually spread from infected pregnant women to their babies, or from child-to-child contact.

In rare cases, it can be spread through unprotected sex and injecting drugs.

Most adults infected with hepatitis B are able to fight off the virus and fully recover from the infection within a couple of months.

But most people infected as children develop a long-term infection. This is known as chronic hepatitis B and can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer. Antiviral medication can be used to treat it.

Hepatitis C 

Hepatitis C is caused by the hepatitis C virus and is the most common type of viral hepatitis in the UK, the NHS states.

It is usually spread through blood-to-blood contact with an infected person.

In the UK, it is most commonly spread through sharing needles used to inject drugs.

Poor healthcare practices and unsafe medical injections are the main way it is spread outside the UK.

Hepatitis C often causes no noticeable symptoms, or only flu-like symptoms, so many people are unaware they’re infected.

Around 1 in 4 people will fight off the infection and be free of the virus. In the remaining cases, it’ll stay in the body for many years. This is known as chronic hepatitis C and can cause cirrhosis and liver failure.

Chronic hepatitis C can be treated with very effective antiviral medications, but there’s currently no vaccine available.

Hepatitis D 

Hepatitis D is caused by the hepatitis D virus. It only affects people who are already infected with hepatitis B, as it needs the hepatitis B virus to be able to survive in the body.

Hepatitis D is usually spread through blood-to-blood contact or sexual contact, the NHS states.

Long-term infection with hepatitis D and hepatitis B can increase the risk of developing serious problems, such as cirrhosis and liver cancer.

There is no vaccine specifically for hepatitis D, but the hepatitis B vaccine can help protect people from it.

Hepatitis E 

The NHS states that hepatitis E is caused by the hepatitis E virus. The number of cases in Europe has increased in recent years and it is now the most common cause of short-term hepatitis in the UK.

The virus has been mainly associated with the consumption of raw or undercooked pork meat or offal, but also with wild boar meat, venison and shellfish.

Hepatitis E is generally a mild and short-term infection that does not require any treatment, but it can be serious in some people, such as those who have a weakened immune system.

Alcoholic hepatitis 

Alcoholic hepatitis is a type of hepatitis caused by drinking excessive amounts of alcohol over many years, the NHS states.

The condition is common in the UK and many people do not realise they have it.

This is because it does not usually cause any symptoms, although it can cause sudden jaundice and liver failure in some people.

Stopping drinking will usually allow the liver to recover, but there is a risk of eventually developing cirrhosis, liver failure or liver cancer if a person continues to drink alcohol excessively.

Autoimmune hepatitis 

Autoimmune hepatitis is a rare cause of long-term hepatitis in which the immune system attacks and damages the liver, the NHS states.

Eventually, the liver can become so damaged that it stops working properly.

Treatment for autoimmune hepatitis involves very effective medicines that suppress the immune system and reduce inflammation.

It is not clear what causes autoimmune hepatitis and it is not known whether anything can be done to prevent it.

For more information about hepatitis and access to a confidential hepatitis helpline, visit The Hepatitis Trust website here.

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