Did you know 1 in 10 A&PIs is chronically infected with hepatitis B? Half of the people in the US living with hepatitis B are A&PIs, and A&PIs account for half of all hepatitis B related deaths in the US. In fact, hepatitis B related liver cancer is one of the leading causes of death for A&PI men in California.
You may also not know that hepatitis B is completely preventable through a vaccination. In fact, a lot of people may not know: One-third of A&PIs living in San Francisco haven't been vaccinated for hepatitis B.
Hepatitis refers to any disease that inflames the liver, regardless of how it was contracted. HBV is the virus that causes hepatitis B.(1) Chronic hep B infection can lead to liver cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer. Worldwide, 60-80% of primary liver cancer is caused by chronic HBV infection.(2)
HBV is transmitted very much like HIV. Blood transfusions, dirty needles, and unprotected sex are ways that you can contract HBV, but usually HBV is passed from mother to child. HBV is not transmitted through air, food, water, breastfeeding, casual contact like kissing, hugging, sharing utensils or dishes.(3)
However, HBV differs from HIV with respect to how long it can live outside the body. HIV is very weak, and can be killed easily. HBV on the other hand is robust, and can survive over 7 days outside the body. Spread of HBV within the household can occur from sharing toothbrushes or razors.4
Most people who are chronically infected don't realize it until it's too late. Two-thirds of HBV cases don't exhibit any symptoms, making HBV a silent killer in our community. If symptoms do develop, they mirror the flu: fever, fatigue, joint and/or muscle pain, nausea and vomiting. Jaundice may or may not develop. Because it's hard to tell whether or not you have HBV, you should get screened!(5)
An effective vaccine exists for HBV, the virus that causes Hepatitis B. Getting vaccinated is easy. Talk to your medical provider or find a screening center to find out more. You can find low- and no-cost screenings and vaccinations by visiting http://hivtest.cdc.gov/stdvaccine.aspx.
15-25% of people with chronic hep B will develop a serious liver condition like cirrhosis or liver cancer, costly and long term illnesses.(6) In many cases, getting screened can be free and quick at community screening centers. If you have private insurance, ask your doctor to include a screening for you during your next blood test. If your tests come back negative, you should consider getting the HBV vaccine. Getting vaccinated requires three shots scheduled over a six month period. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends newborns be vaccinated at birth. You can find low- and no-cost screenings and vaccinations by visiting http://hivtest.cdc.gov/stdvaccine.aspx.
(1,4,5,6) CDC, "Hepatitis B FAQs for the Public," online article. Reviewed June 9, 2009. Accessible at http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/B/bFAQ.htm#overview
(2,3,7) Asian Liver Center, "What is Hepatitis B?" Stanford School of Medicine. http://liver.stanford.edu/education/whatishepb.html