There are 2 common causes of acute viral hepatitis in children:
- Hepatitis A virus: This has a shorter incubation period (15–50 days) and is spread by swallowing the virus in contaminated food or water. Hepatitis A is the most common type of hepatitis in children.
- Hepatitis B virus: This has a longer incubation period (5–150 days) and in children is usually spread from a mother to her newborn infant at or soon after delivery. However it may also be spread orally like hepatitis A or by an unscreened blood transfusion or traditional scratching or cutting. In adults it is spread by sexual contact.
Antibodies to hepatitis A or B can be used to identify each virus. Hepatitis surface antigen (HBsAg) or e antigen (HBeAg) indicate persistent infection and probable viral shedding with hepatitis B.