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Italian doctor Mario Rizzetto made a chance discovery of Hepatitis D virus HDV in the year 1977 while he was doing research on patients affected by Hepatitis B. This new nuclear antigen was initially assumed to be an encoded protein of HBV virus. Subsequent research showed a shocking result. It was found that the antigen was generated by a totally new variety of virus called the HDV or the Hepatitis Delta Virus. The best way to control the spread of HDV virus is to be aware of its symptoms and signs. Read below to get a clearer picture of this disease.

Causes of Hepatitis D
It is a well-known fact that Hepatitis D can exist only on presence of Hepatitis B. So a person afflicted with Hepatitis B is highly susceptible to an infection of Hepatitis D. If not so, then a healthy person is likely to get a combined infection of Hepatitis B and D from person suffering from such dual infection. Such co-infections are self-limiting and acute in nature. HDV virus spreads rapidly through unprotected sex or use of infected or unsterilized needles. It also spreads when you come in contact with blood or semen of an HDV affected person. Other causes include sharing of needles during drug abuse or usage of infected needles while creating tattoos or body piercing. People working in pathological labs or those handling the dialysis treatment facility are susceptible to HDV infection.

Symptoms of Hepatitis D
A notable fact is that, every HDV patient may not manifest symptoms for HDV infection. At the onset of the infection, the HDV virus starts multiplying rapidly within the patient's liver. The patient actually feels the Hepatitis D symptoms within a time frame of 14 to 180 days from the germination of the infection. Some of the first symptoms include vomiting and nausea. Nausea levels can be so high that a chain smoker may stay away from smoking completely. Other early symptoms include:
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Mild fever
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Dark urine
  • Light colored stools
  • Sore throat
  • Abdominal pain and stomach flu
Approximately 2 weeks after the infection sets in, the patient experiences jaundice like symptoms viz. Yellowing of skin. An acute case of Hepatitis D often leads to fulminant hepatitis or a case of liver failure. Factors that increase the risk of this case are:
  • When patients are older in age
  • When they have chronic Hepatitis B
  • When they have liver cirrhosis
  • When they have had a liver transplantation
Some common effects of chronic hepatitis D include experiencing HDV symptoms and cirrhosis many years after the original infection. Some chronic cases have also scarred the patient's lever thereby affecting flow of blood through it. At times, there may be some obstruction to blood flowing towards the liver which affects the functions of liver. In case of chronic cirrhosis, there is a visible shrinkage in the size of the liver followed by its hardening.

Some joint symptoms of chronic Hepatitis D and Cirrhosis include:
  • Jaundice
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Stomach ache
  • Weight loss
  • Spider angiomas
There are cases where a person with chronic Hepatitis D has experienced late symptoms. In this case, the person has a liver failure which hinders the liver functioning. The liver stops draining out the toxic wastes from the body thereby making the body look bloated up. Similarly, the liver stops making essential proteins that are needed by the body. Symptoms include:
  • Slow brain functions and personality change
  • Easy bruising and bleeding
  • Itchy skin
  • Internal bleeding in intestine
  • Fluids buildup in legs and stomach
  • Coma
  • High blood pressure in liver
  • Diabetes
  • Resistance to insulin
  • Reactions to medication
  • Development of gallstones
There is a high chance of development of liver cancer. Approximately 20% of chronic Hepatitis D cases lead to death.

Diagnosing Hepatitis D
Hepatitis D infection can be detected by carrying out certain serological tests. Some tests to reveal anti-HDV antibodies include enzyme immunoassay and radio immunoassay. Patients who have contracted Hepatitis B are regularly monitored to check if there is any HDV infection too.

Treatment of Hepatitis D
Medical world does not have a fool-proof medication for hepatitis D. The only way of controlling Hepatitis D is by providing medication for individual symptoms of Hepatitis D. Doctors avoid application of corticosteroid medication. The patient is put up on a high carbohydrate diet such as rice, vegetables, wheat and bakery products, potatoes, etc. Consumption of fatty foods and alcohol is usually barred.

The disease can be prevented by playing safe and using condoms during any sexual contact. Similarly, sharing of toothbrushes, needles and razors should be avoided. If you or your loved one have been affected by Hepatitis B, then take regular tests to check for Hepatitis D. An ideal preventive measure is to take a vaccination against Hepatitis B.