Editorial: Hep B, a silent killer we must be aware of

Hepatitis B is an epidemic that is devastating the Asian community. A big problem is that most people don’t know this.

On Sept. 30, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its list of priorities. Dubbing them “winnable battles,” Dr. Thomas Friedman, director of the CDC, stated that smoking, AIDS, obesity/nutrition, teen pregnancy, auto injuries, and health care infections are the areas that the CDC are concentrating on most.

Since then, the CDC has gotten a lot of grief for elevating a handful of problems over the dozens that also desperately need attention.

A glaring omission that affects Asian and Pacific Islander (API) populations is hepatitis B and C, both of which many experts say have long been under-recognized by the CDC.

According to a release from California Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, hepatitis B attacks the liver when active and is 100 times more infectious than HIV. Left untreated, the disease can cause cirrhosis, liver cancer, and liver failure. Eighty percent of cases of liver cancer worldwide are caused by hepatitis B. One out of 10 APIs is infected, and APIs constitute the only racial group in which cancer is the number one killer. One in four APIs diagnosed with hepatitis B will die of liver cancer unless he or she receives treatment.

According to a report from the Journal of Clinical Oncology, rates of chronic hepatitis B and liver cancer in Asian populations are expected to climb 134 percent by 2030, compared to 28 percent among non-Hispanic whites.

The CDC currently has $7.3 million allocated to national hepatitis B and C prevention.

Congressman Mike Honda, from California, is calling for $600 million in his Liver Cancer Bill.

As Asians, we commonly have the attitude that if we don’t have any symptoms, there is nothing to worry about. A New America Media story we ran earlier this year quoted Dr. Moon S. Chen, Jr.: “Cancer screenings are a hard sell for Korean Americans.” Dr. Chen, a professor of hematology and oncology, said that Asian Americans — regardless of whether they have insurance — see their doctor less frequently than do all other ethnic groups.

Hepatitis B is known as a silent killer because infected individuals often have no symptoms.

It’s only when the liver is already compromised that symptoms appear. This hampers the ability to treat the disease.

But the good news is that it’s largely preventable and you can become immunized. Also, what we can do is encourage our family members and friends to get their blood tested. Early detection makes a huge difference, and the test is relatively inexpensive.

It’s also important to note that hepatitis B is typically passed from mother to child during the birthing process, so it’s especially important for pregnant women to be tested. ♦

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