A closer look at Hepatitis B

May 15, 2008 7:10:02 PM PDT
About one in ten Asian Americans in the Bay Area is infected with Hepatitis B, a virus linked to serious liver problems, including cancer.

About one in ten Asian Americans in the Bay Area is infected with Hepatitis B, a virus linked to serious liver problems, including cancer.

The Hepatitis B virus is endemic in certain parts of the world, particularly Asia and the Pacific Islands. That means communities like ours with a strong immigrant influence are grappling with the effects of chronic Hepatitis B.

Bok Pon is a survivor. A U.S. Army paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division, he's fighting a very different battle now.

"I went for my annual checkup and I said also, let's have a blood test, so the doctor gave me a blood test. And after the blood test he came back and said bon, get things ready," said Pon.

His doctor diagnosed him with Hepatitis B and advanced liver cancer, and told him he had just six months to live.

"We call chronic Hepatitis B a silent killer because usually those who are infected feel perfectly healthy," said Dr. Samuel So from Stanford Asian Liver Center.

Dr. So is on a mission to raise awareness about Hepatitis B, a virus spread blood to blood through sexual transmission, or quite commonly from mother to baby.

About nine percent of Asian Pacific Islanders here are Hepatitis B positive.

"For most Asian Americans, most of them actually became infected at birth, or during early childhood, maybe through the use of unclean syringes and medical supplies," said Dr. So.

It's estimated 20,000 people in the San Francisco Bay Area are infected with Hepatitis B, and two-thirds of them don't even know it.

"If I know sooner, I would not be in this situation, but since I'm in this situation, it's really important for other people to know, they should take the test," said Pon.

A simple blood test determines whether a person has the virus. It's information that can prove life changing. For those who aren't infected, a series of vaccinations is available.

"If you are infected, you know there are now treatments as simple as taking a pill a day that could reduce the risk of developing liver cancer and liver disease," said Dr. So.

Knowledge is power, and understanding one's condition is critical for the health of the individual and the community.

"So many Asians don't want to talk about this especially of your generation," said ABC7's Carolyn Johnson.

"That's wrong, that's wrong and I hope to be a role model to tell them nothing to be afraid of, be honest with the family, and by the best insurance possible if you haven't," said Pon.

Pon has beaten the odds. New treatments have eliminated his largest liver tumors, he's now on the transplant waiting list and in the meantime, he's committed to spreading the word about Hepatitis B.

"This can be eradicated in our community if everybody takes the responsibility to get medical treatment, and there's technology and medicine out there to eliminate it," said Pon.

All infants in the U.S. are now vaccinated against Hepatitis B at birth, but for second generation Asian Americans over the age of 20 there's a strong possibility they did not receive the vaccine. They, along with foreign born Asian Americans are considered high risk and need to be tested.

The largest single day Hepatitis B screening ever, is this Saturday in San Francisco's Japantown. Free screenings run from 11a.m. until 5 p.m.


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