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Asian Americans Encouraged to Test for Hepatitis B

Video Credit: Brian Myers, Media Arts Center San Diego

By Brian Myers

With help from pharmaceutical students at UC San Diego, the Asian Pacific Health Foundation is continuing its campaign for a “Hepatitis Free San Diego.”

APHF Medical Director Robert Gish said Hepatitis B and C are the leading causes of liver transplants and liver cancer in the United States.

“Hepatitis B infects 2 million. Hepatitis C infects 5 million people. Those are big numbers,” he said.

The viruses that can lead to scarring of the liver and eventually liver cancer often go unnoticed by carriers, because acute symptoms of Hepatitis B and C resemble flu-like symptoms.

Both Hepatitis B and C are bloodborne infections and can only be passed on through contact with blood. Transmission of the virus happens most frequently through blood infusions and exposure to blood, but transmission through sex is also possible.

Globally, Hepatitis B infection has concentrated in Asia and Southeast Asia. In the United States, first and second generation Asian American and Pacific Islander communities are most at risk of having and contracting the virus.

While not curable, there is a vaccine that can prevent Hepatitis B in those not exposed to the virus, and the virus can be suppressed and controlled with medication to decrease the risk of liver cancer.

APHF Executive Director Binh Tran said a stigma is associated with Hepatitis B that leads to discrimination and has created problems trying to control the disease.

“Oftentimes people don’t talk about their diseases. They are afraid their bosses at their place of work will [reveal them] and they will lose their job,” she said.

Baby boomers, or those born between 1946 and 1964, are more vulnerable to the Hepatitis C virus.

No vaccine is available for Hepatitis C, however it is curable with short term treatment.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention partners with community health organizations to help contain the infection. The APHF grew out of a community clinic and collaborates with the UC San Diego Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. Together, they provide screening services to those communities most at risk for Hepatitis B and C, hypertension and osteoporosis. The collaboration also allows UC San Diego students to conduct research on the communities they work in.

Dr. Tran said APHF has screened more than 70 people at previous Hepatitis B screenings. They screened 17 people in total during at a screening at Royal Hall in City Heights Sunday.

The lower number may be due to the Affordable Care Act.

“Since then, there are good things that patients are obtaining – insurance – that they need. We’ll see some decrease in people coming to our events,” Dr. Tran said.

She said they still have work to do, because prevention and diagnosis are critical to prevent the spread of viral Hepatitis B and C and family medical practices don’t regularly test for them.

Dr. Gish appealed to the community to refer their friends and family to get tested at community screenings or by their medical providers.

“We really want to link people to care, because our ultimate goal is to eradicate Hepatitis B and C,” he said. “That can happen in the next few decades. It’s going to take time, and work, and collaboration.”


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