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Together, hepatitis B and C represent one of the major threats to global health. Hepatitis B and C are both 'silent' viruses, and because many people feel no symptoms, you could be infected for years without knowing it. If left untreated, both the hepatitis B and C viruses can lead to liver scarring (cirrhosis).

If you have liver cirrhosis, you have a risk of life-threatening complications, such as bleeding, ascites (accumulation of fluid in the abdominal cavity), coma, liver cancer, liver failure and death. In the case of chronic hepatitis B, liver cancer might even appear before you've developed cirrhosis.

In some cases, a diagnosis is made too late and the only option is a liver transplant. If you think you've been at risk, it's important to get tested as soon as possible and consider your treatment options and self-management strategies.

Patients with hepatitis B infection can also be infected with a second virus known as hepatitis delta virus, hepatitis D virus or simply HDV. (Find out more about hepatitis D at hepatitis-delta.org)

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HEPATITIS B AND C

1. While there is a vaccine that protects against hepatitis B infection, there's no vaccine available for hepatitis C

2. Both viruses can be contracted though blood-to-blood contact

3. Hepatitis B is more infectious than hepatitis C and can also be spread through saliva, semen and vaginal fluid

4. In the case of hepatitis B, infection can occur through having unprotected sex with an infected person. Please note that this is much rarer in the case of hepatitis C

5. While unlikely, it is possible to contract hepatitis B through kissing. You cannot contract hepatitis C through kissing

6. Neither virus is easily spread through everyday contact. You cannot get infected with hepatitis B or C by shaking hands, coughing or sneezing, or by using the same toilet. There are different treatments for the two viruses. While treatment can control chronic hepatitis B, it can often cure hepatitis C

7. Even if treatment is not an option for you, you can do something about your disease. A healthy lifestyle is important. Alcohol, smoking, eating fatty foods, being overweight or extreme dieting (eating no food at all) may worsen your liver disease. Therefore, try to avoid all alcohol, stop smoking, eat a low fat diet with enough fruit and vegetables, and reduce your weight if necessary

HEPATITIS B

The World Health Organization recognizes that hepatitis B is one of the major diseases affecting mankind today. Hepatitis B is one of the most common viral infections in the world and the WHO estimates that two billion people have been infected with the hepatitis B virus and approximately 350 million people are living with chronic (lifelong) infections. An estimated 500,000 to 700,000 people die every year from hepatitis B.

The hepatitis B virus is highly infectious and about 50-100 times more infectious than HIV. In nine out of 10 adults, acute hepatitis B infection will go away on its own in the first six months. However, if the virus becomes chronic, it may cause liver cirrhosis and liver cancer after up to 40 years, but in some cases as little as five years after diagnosis.

The hepatitis B virus is transmitted between people through contact with the blood or other body fluids (i.e. saliva, semen and vaginal fluid) of an infected person. Although not all people will have any signs of the virus, those that do may experience the following symptoms:

1. Flu-like symptoms

2. Fatigue