Hepatitis, Acute - Acute Hepatitis

  • Diagnosis
  • Algorithms
  • Background
  • Lab Tests
  • References
  • Related Content

Indications for Testing

  • New onset of jaundice, anorexia, or dark urine
  • Known exposure to hepatitis

Laboratory Testing

  • Viral hepatitis for health professionals (CDC)
  • Screen for hepatitis A (HAV), hepatitis B (HBV), and hepatitis C (HCV) infections concurrently unless specific exposure is known
  • Panel testing includes HAV IgM, HBV core antibody IgM, HBV surface antigen, and HCV antibody
    • Positive HAV antibodies indicate acute HAV
    • Positive HBV antibodies and surface antigen indicate acute HBV or chronic hepatitis
      • Repeat surface antigen testing and consider HBV DNA testing if nonacute presentation
    • Positive HCV antibodies indicate acute HCV or chronic HCV
      • High and low positives should be followed with RNA quantitative testing
  • HEV testing – if patient is from a high-risk area and hepatitis screening tests are negative
  • HDV testing – if acute hepatitis in patient with known chronic hepatitis
  • For further evaluation of hepatitis, refer to specific hepatitis algorithms in ARUP Consult

Differential Diagnosis

Hepatitis Virus Screening Algorithm

Hepatitis viruses A (HAV), B (HBV), and C (HCV) cause 95% of viral hepatitis cases in the U.S. Less-common hepatitis viruses include D (HDV), E (HEV), and G (HGV or GBV-C).


  • Transmission – variable according to virus
    • HAV, HEV – fecal-oral
    • HBV, HCV, HDV, HGV – IV drug abuse, sexual transmission, blood transfusions


  • Diverse group of viruses that share a common ability to cause inflammation and necrosis of the liver
  • Virus may persist in a chronic state (HBV, HCV, HDV)
    • Patients may remain chronic carriers
    • May cause the development of cirrhosis

Risk Factors

  • HAV – children in daycare settings
  • HBV and HCV
    • Sexual transmission from infected partner
    • HIV-positive patients
    • IV drug abusers
    • Hemophiliacs – from blood products
  • HDV
    • IV drug abusers
    • Travel to endemic area (Amazon basin, Mediterranean basin, Middle East, South Pacific, Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa)
  • HEV
    • Travel to endemic area (Central Asia, Middle East, parts of South America, Africa)

Clinical Presentation

  • May be difficult to diagnose clinically
  • Frequently asymptomatic – may have only mild rise in aminotransferases
  • Mild symptoms – malaise, fever, chills, depressed appetite
  • Similar symptoms among viral hepatitis types
  • Jaundice is not a predominant symptom in most patients
  • Complications – acute liver failure


  • Chronic hepatitis is a public health concern for transmission as well as for the development of cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma
  • Vaccines are available to immunize against HAV and HBV

Indications for Laboratory Testing

Tests generally appear in the order most useful for common clinical situations.
Click on number for test-specific information in the ARUP Laboratory Test Directory

Hepatic Function Panel 0020416
Method: Quantitative Enzymatic/Quantitative Spectrophotometry

Hepatitis Panel, Acute with Reflex to HBsAg Confirmation 0020457
Method: Qualitative Chemiluminescent Immunoassay

Hepatitis C Virus by Quantitative PCR 0098268
Method: Quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction

Hepatitis E Virus (HEV) Antibody, IgG 2010151
Method: Qualitative Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay

Hepatitis E Virus (HEV) Antibody, IgM 2010156
Method: Qualitative Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay

Additional Tests Available

Hepatitis A Virus Antibody, IgM 0020093
Method: Qualitative Chemiluminescent Immunoassay

Hepatitis B Virus Core Antibody, IgM 0020092
Method: Qualitative Chemiluminescent Immunoassay

Hepatitis B Virus Surface Antigen with Reflex to Confirmation 0020089
Method: Qualitative Chemiluminescent Immunoassay 

Hepatitis C Virus Antibody by CIA 2002483
Method: Qualitative Chemiluminescent Immunoassay

Hepatitis E Virus (HEV) Antibodies, IgG and IgM 2012023
Method: Qualitative Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay

General References

Aggarwal R, Jameel S. Hepatitis E. Hepatology. 2011; 54(6): 2218-26. PubMed

Clemente M, Schwarz K. Hepatitis: general principles. Pediatr Rev. 2011; 32(8): 333-40. PubMed

Degertekin B, Lok A. Update on viral hepatitis: 2007. Curr Opin Gastroenterol. 2008; 24(3): 306-11. PubMed

Denk H. What is expected from the pathologist in the diagnosis of viral hepatitis? Virchows Arch. 2011; 458(4): 377-92. PubMed

Sharapov U, Hu D. Viral hepatitis A, B, and C: grown-up issues. Adolesc Med State Art Rev. 2010; 21(2): 265-86, ix. PubMed

Suriawinata A, Thung S. Acute and chronic hepatitis. Semin Diagn Pathol. 2006; 23(3-4): 132-48. PubMed

Medical Reviewers

Last Update: December 2015