Researchers at the University of California, Davis, led a series of hepatitis B screening events targeting Asian-Americans, an outreach effort that identified hundreds of at-risk individuals and helped to prevent the onset of liver diseases, including cancer. The study, “Increasing Hepatitis B Testing and Linkage to Care of Foreign-Born Asians, Sacramento, California, 2012–2013,” was published in Public Health Reports.
Hepatitis B is a viral infection that attacks the liver, leading to acute or chronic disease. For reasons still unknown, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders have the highest incidence of liver cancer of any racial or ethnic group in the United States, according to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
In the study, part of the nationwide Hepatitis Testing and Linkage to Care Initiative, researchers at the university’s Comprehensive Cancer Center aimed to determine the efficacy of a program to refer infected individuals to care, and to vaccinate uninfected adults who were susceptible to chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection. Working with Asian-American community organizations and the UC Davis student-run clinics, they held 28 hepatitis B community screening events throughout Sacramento County, California.
“We realized that a one-size-fits-all approach would not work because each ethnic group faced different barriers when it came to screening,” Dr. Julie Dang, the study’s lead author and director of community engagement and outreach at the cancer center. “So we created different campaigns to target each of the communities and came up with the best screening plan for the individual populations.”
A total of 1,004 adults, either born in Asia or of Asian ancestry — 283 Koreans, 242 Chinese, 233 Vietnamese, 223 Hmong, and 23 from other Asian communities — were screened for HBV. Of these individuals, 98 percent were born outside the U.S. and 87 percent had a language preference other than English. Seventy-six people tested positive for HBV, of which 51 received follow-up counseling. Another 220 adults tested negative but were thought susceptible to infection, and were counseled to get a HBV vaccination, which has a 95 percent effectiveness rate. Future plans include another two-year effort to screen an additional 2,000 Asian-Americans for the hepatitis B infection.
HBV infection is a leading cause of cirrhosis and liver cancer, and constitutes a major public health problem. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 240 million people are chronically infected with the virus, and about 780,000 people die every year due to complications from the disease.