Update May 22, 2017
New chapter on Acute Viral Hepatitis from the forthcoming 20th edition of Harrison's.
The chapter on Acute Viral Hepatitis from the forthcoming 20th edition of Harrison's is now available. Recent developments in the treatment of acute hepatitis have been dramatic. The new chapter from the 20th edition includes coverage of new therapeutic agents that have demonstrated considerable success and cure rates. Click here to access the newly published chapter from the 20th edition.
Anthony S. Fauci, MD
Acute viral hepatitis is a systemic infection affecting the liver predominantly. Almost all cases of acute viral hepatitis are caused by one of five viral agents: hepatitis A virus (HAV), hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV), the HBV-associated delta agent or hepatitis D virus (HDV), and hepatitis E virus (HEV). All these human hepatitis viruses are RNA viruses, except for hepatitis B, which is a DNA virus but replicates like a retrovirus. Although these agents can be distinguished by their molecular and antigenic properties, all types of viral hepatitis produce clinically similar illnesses. These range from asymptomatic and inapparent to fulminant and fatal acute infections common to all types, on the one hand, and from subclinical persistent infections to rapidly progressive chronic liver disease with cirrhosis and even hepatocellular carcinoma, common to the bloodborne types (HBV, HCV, and HDV), on the other.
HAV is a nonenveloped 27-nm, heat-, acid-, and ether-resistant RNA virus in the Hepatovirus genus of the picornavirus family (Fig. 360-1). Its virion contains four capsid polypeptides, designated VP1 to VP4, which are cleaved posttranslationally from the polyprotein product of a 7500-nucleotide genome. Inactivation of viral activity can be achieved by boiling for 1 min, by contact with formaldehyde and chlorine, or by ultraviolet irradiation. Despite nucleotide sequence variation of up to 20% among isolates of HAV, and despite the recognition of four genotypes affecting humans, all strains of this virus are immunologically indistinguishable and belong to one serotype. Hepatitis A has an incubation period of ~4 weeks. Its replication is limited to the liver, but the virus is present in the liver, bile, stools, and blood during the late incubation period and acute preicteric/presymptomatic phase of illness. Despite slightly longer persistence of virus in the liver, fecal shedding, viremia, and infectivity diminish rapidly once jaundice becomes apparent. HAV can be cultivated reproducibly in vitro.
Electron micrographs of hepatitis A virus particles and serum from a patient with hepatitis B. Left: 27-nm hepatitis A virus particles purified from stool of a patient with acute hepatitis A and aggregated by antibody to hepatitis A virus. Right: Concentrated serum from a patient with hepatitis B, demonstrating the 42-nm virions, tubular forms, and spherical 22-nm particles of hepatitis B surface antigen. 132,000×. (Hepatitis D resembles 42-nm virions of hepatitis B but ...