In May, medical experts and community advocates in Honolulu and across the globe will join forces to mark Hepatitis Testing Day, and to raise awareness of a disease that affects as many as two million Americans: chronic hepatitis B.
While anyone can contract hepatitis B (hep B), people of Asian descent bear the heaviest burden, representing nearly three-quarters of individuals affected worldwide. Here in the United States, up to one million Asian Americans have hep B – that’s half of all cases in the country.
But what exactly is hep B, and why is it such a threat to our community?
Hep B is caused by a virus that is transmitted via blood and other bodily fluids. Hep B can be managed, and the disease can be prevented – but if left untreated, the complications of hep B can potentially be life threatening.
First-generation Asian Americans from China, Korea, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam, India and the Philippines are at particularly high risk for hep B due to low rates of infant vaccination against the disease in these countries. In fact, most Asian Americans who have hep B contracted it during childbirth from their mothers. That’s why tragically, in this community, it is common to see multiple members of the same family affected by hep B.
Despite its high incidence rate in Asian communities, as many as two out of three Asian Americans who have chronic hep B do not know they are infected. That is because hep B does not always cause noticeable symptoms. Chronic hep B can slowly damage the liver over time, increasing the risk of serious liver disease.
As Asian immigrants are projected to be the largest immigrant population in the country over the next 40 years, the need to call attention to this so-called “silent” disease is more critical than ever. The good news is that hep B can easily be detected with a quick and simple blood test. Everyone should talk to their doctor about getting tested – especially if you are of Asian descent.
If you test negative for hep B, there is a safe and effective vaccine that can prevent hep B, and it is widely available in the United States. If you test positive for hep B, talk to your doctor about whether treatment would be appropriate for you. Regular screenings to monitor the health of your liver are very important, and there are treatments that may potentially lower the amount of virus and decrease the risk of further damage to the liver – some are just one pill a day.
So on Hepatitis Testing Day on May 19, join millions of Asians here in the United States and around the globe and get tested for hepatitis B.
Visit hepBsmart.com for information about chronic hepatitis B, and to learn about the documentary film short BE ABOUT IT, sponsored by Gilead Sciences, which chronicles the lives of two Asian Americans, Alan and AJ, as they battle chronic hepatitis B, and how their families cope with the impact of this potentially life-threatening disease. The film aims to educate, inspire and ultimately dispel myths about hepatitis B. BE ABOUT IT is subtitled in Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Japanese, and community screening kits are now available.
“BE ABOUT IT” Christopher Wong, Director (right)