[July 28, 2011 is the first World Health Organization-sponsored World Hepatitis Day. Asian Americans are disproportionally at risk for Hepatitis B in particular, reported NPR in 2010. To spread greater awareness of this issue, VTP is re-sharing this article by Jennie Le from earlier this year — ed.]
When I was a child, I lost someone close due to the compromising effects of the Hepatitis B Virus (HBV). As a result of HBV, liver cancer crept up on him so much sooner and faster than it should have. He died when he was only 42.
Now, I’m not a crusader for HBV awareness, prevention, and screening. In fact, I don’t think I paid much attention to this topic very much until recently. However, after learning much more about this virus and realizing how close to home it’s hit, I wanted to make sure my fellow readers have insight on this detrimental infection.
What is HBV? Hepatitis B is a disease caused by infection with the hepatitis B virus. Chronic infection with HBV can lead to liver cirrhosis, liver failure, and liver cancer. About 60% – 80% of primary liver cancer worldwide is caused by chronic HBV infection. There have been studies that say HBV is 50 -100 times more infectious than HIV and can survive out of the body for up to 7 days. Worldwide, 370 – 400 million suffer from chronic HBV versus 40 million who suffer from HIV. (Disclaimer: My point isn’t to say HIV isn’t as important to learn about and prevent, but merely to show how HBV deserves just as much attention as HIV gets in education and media.)
How is it transmitted? Many people with chronic HPV exhibit no symptoms and feel pretty healthy. It can be transmitted through 1) a mother to a child at the time of birth, 2) contact with infected blood, 3) and unprotected sex. Among the Asian & Pacific Islander (API) community, transmission of HPV often occurs during birth from mother to child. Because HPV is often symptomless, the disease can progress undetected until it is too late and treatment options are limited or ineffective.
How does it affect America? In the US, there are an estimated 60,000 people infected with HBV each year, with 5,000 people dying each year from HPV related liver cancer or cirrhosis with liver failure. We lose more than $700 million in work and medical loss costs due to HPV-related conditions. An estimated 1.25 million Americans are chronically affected with HBV. Over half affected are API Americans.
How does it affect the API community? As many as 1 out of 10 API Americans are chronically affected as opposed to 1 in 1000 Caucasian Americans. About 1 out of 4 people who have HBV will get liver cancer. In addition, APIs are 100 times more likely to have chronic HBV than Caucasians and have the highest rate of liver cancer for any racial/ethnic group, which is the second most common cause of cancer in API men.
What has been done in our community? In 2007, San Francisco set a citywide campaign to be the first HBV free city in the nation through “San Francisco Hep B Free.” This unprecedented 2-year campaign began in April hoping to screen, vaccinate, and treat all San Francisco API residents of HPV by providing convenient, free or low-costing testing opportunities. SF has the highest liver cancer rate in the nation, and understanding that Hepatitis B was responsible for 80% of all liver cancers among APIs, the campaign attempted to educate and treat people about HBV.
What are some myths surrounding HBV? Hepatitis B is NOT transmitted through
2. Casual contact such as hugging or shaking hands
3. Kissing, sneezing or coughing
What can we do to prevent/treat it? Since the diagnosis of hepatitis B is so easily missed by both patients and their physicians, the only way to diagnose for hepatitis B infection is through a simple and inexpensive blood test. It is preventable with a simple vaccine series. By identifying the 1 in 10 API Americans who are unaware of their HBV, vaccinating those who don’t have it now, and educating the community how the issue at hand and how to handle it, we will see the high numbers of those affected by HBV drop.
Being involved and aware are simple. Get tested. The next time you visit your doctor, ask for an HBV test if you haven’t already. This isn’t included in your routine physical exam, so be sure to request the two blood tests to determine if you have HBV. Get vaccinated. If you are negative for the surface antigen and surface antibody, get the 3-shot Hepatitis B vaccination. Get involved. Learn more about HBV and share it with your friends and family. Join the Jade Ribbon Campaign with Team HBV, which you can read more about here.
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