Cultural, language and financial barriers prevent many Asians & Pacific Islanders (“APIs”) from understanding their very high risk of infection for chronic hepatitis B (1-in-12 for Asian Americans and 1-in-10 for Asians worldwide); from protecting themselves from the hepatitis B virus if they are not already infected; and from seeking appropriate medical care even when they know they are infected.
The hepatitis B virus is transmitted the same way as the human immunodeficiency virus (“HIV”), such as contact with blood or other body fluids or transmission at birth from an infected mother. What many do not know is that the hepatitis B virus is 50 to 100 times more infectious than the HIV virus, which causes AIDS.
If you become infected as an adult, you are likely to clear the hepatitis B virus and develop immunity.
If, however, you contracted it at birth from your mother who herself was infected, or as a young child when your immune system was not able to fight off the virus — and this is the typical way many APIs become infected — you have a 90 percent chance of developing a life-long, chronic infection which may develop, over the long term, into serious liver damage, cirrhosis, liver failure or liver cancer, and cause death in 1 out of 4 cases.
Even though the Center for Disease Control (“CDC”) recommends that persons born in countries of high endemicity for chronic hepatitis B be routinely screened for infection, many medical providers in Southern Nevada (and elsewhere) do not do so unless requested by their patients. Because chronic hepatitis B is typically asymptomatic, many APIs don’t ask to be screened, and by the time they do, significant liver damage has already occurred.
The good news is that liver cancer caused by chronic hepatitis B is preventable with the hepatitis B vaccine if you are not already infected. If you are infected, there are safe and effective antiviral therapies available to treat you. However, you have to take the first step and get screened; and then you have to act on what the results indicate.
According to the 2010 Census, 182,459 APIs live in Southern Nevada. This presents an opportunity to serve a very serious and unmet public health need.