BY THE WASHINGTON STATE API HEPATITIS B TASK FORCE
Right now, one out of 10 Asian Pacific Islanders (APIs) living in Seattle-King County may have a deadly disease without even knowing it. Feeling good is no guarantee that you are not infected; this is a disease that can attack your body for decades without producing a single symptom.
The disease? Hepatitis B.
Hepatitis B is a potentially deadly illness caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV), which attacks the liver. The chronic form of hepatitis B can cause liver failure, scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) or liver cancer in one out of four chronically infected people. About 750,000 APIs may be infected with chronic hepatitis B – more than half of the 1.25 million cases in the United States!
HBV is found in blood and other body fluids, and can be passed from mother to child during birth – the most common method among APIs. It is also transmitted through sexual activity or infected needles used for injecting drugs, tattooing or acupuncture. HBV can live on dry surfaces outside the body for a week so the virus can also be transmitted through the use of personal items like shaving razors or toothbrushes. This may explain why hepatitis B is known to spread throughout household members. Water and food do not spread the infection.
The most dangerous part of hepatitis B is that it is silent. Not everyone will experience symptoms, and therefore people carrying the virus can unintentionally spread the disease to others for many years. Others may feel like they have the flu, but oftentimes people aren’t diagnosed until they have advanced liver disease.
Hepatitis B is preventable! All APIs should:
• Get tested for the hepatitis B virus! The Task Force will be conducting a hepatitis B screening for API adults (18 years and older) at the Community API Health Fair on Saturday, Sept. 23 from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. in the Pacific Rim building at 900 S. Jackson on the first floor. Get information about hepatitis B and other health issues; Get tested for hepatitis B; and enter to win raffle prizes!
• Get the hepatitis B vaccine in a three-shot series – it is “the first anti-cancer vaccine.” More information will be available at the Health Fair on Sept. 23.
• Encourage your family members and friends to get tested (come to the Health Fair on Sept 23!) and vaccinated.
• Practice safer sex by using condoms and limiting partners.
• Avoid sharing potentially infectious items (such as razors and toothbrushes).
• Educate others about the dangers of hepatitis B and ways to prevent it.
Hepatitis B is treatable!
• If you are diagnosed with hepatitis B, get treated!
• Talk with your doctor about the different treatment options that are available and appropriate for you.
If you don’t have a family doctor, visit your nearest community health clinic.
Although the disease is silent, we don’t have to be. We need and should work together to educate those around us about the dangers of hepatitis B and the importance of testing, vaccination and treatment.