SF at forefront of Hepatitis B screenings

SAN FRANCISCO

Some scientists believe Hepatitis B could be eradicated in two generations or less, if there were widespread vaccinations worldwide. San Francisco has the highest rate of liver cancer in the country, and launched a two-year campaign to change that.

"We are in the process of getting every Asian tested, screened and treated if not insured that is our commitment," said Assemblywoman Fiona Ma from San Francisco.

Ma, who was born with the Hepatitis B virus, underscored the importance of the new CDC guidelines unveiled at the Chinatown Health Center.

The city has led a major effort on testing, and vaccinating Asian and Pacific Islanders -- a population that's four times as likely to die from liver cancer caused by hepatitis b than Caucasians.

"I was born with Hepatitis B from my mother. My sister who is 26-years-old does not have Hepatitis B, because she was vaccinated," said Ma.

Now the CDC is recommending testing and vaccinations nationwide for groups at highest risk.

Those include people born in Asia or African countries with high concentrations of Hepatitis B, sexually active gay men, IV drug users and patients with unexplained liver issues.

"This type of movement is what we need all around the country, to do a much better job of having the same impact on hepatitis B transmission and disease," said Dr. John Ward from the Centers for Disease Control.

Experts say Hepatitis B is responsible for more than half the cases of liver cancer worldwide. But advances made at research centers like UCSF, has resulted in new drugs in the last five years, which can help block the virus from attacking the liver of patients already infected.

"What we know is if you get treatment when you're disease is active and get rid of virus from the blood, you have much lower chance of getting cancer," said Dr. Marion Peters from UCSF.

The CDC also plans to support outreach programs similar to the He-B Free Initiative launched in San Francisco, which so far has vaccinated an estimated 4,000 people.

"Hopefully other cities can learn from our lessons," said Dr. Albert Yu from the Chinatown Public Health Center.

> Santa Clara County is also beginning a similar screening program, along with the University of California.

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