Hepatitis B and Asian American Communities

Did you know that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 1 in 12 Asian Americans are infected by hepatitis B? Did you also know that 2 in 3 Asian Americans infected by hepatitis B don’t know it?  Hepatitis B can be contracted through lifestyle choices, like contact with blood, unprotected sex and shared needles. Most Asians, however, are infected with hepatitis B as infants through their mother during childbirth.

Most people are able to get rid of the hepatitis B virus within six months, but those who cannot are considered to be “chronic carriers.”  Chronic carriers can still live a long and healthy life even though the hepatitis B virus can stay in their blood and liver for the rest of their lives.  This only means they must be cautious because they can continue passing the virus on to other people. It is also important for chronic carriers to visit a doctor who is familiar with hepatitis B, like a liver specialist, at least once a year even if they are not receiving treatment.

Not all chronic carriers need to be on medication, but there are several approved drugs in the United States for those who need it. Epivir-HBV or Zeffix (lamivudine) and Hepsera (adefovir dipivoxil) are pills that are taken orally and Intron A (interferon alpha) is a medication given by injection. The goal of these treatments is to reduce the risk of developing liver cancer or liver failure. According to the Asian Liver Center at Stanford University, liver cancer is the second most common cause of cancer among Vietnamese-Americans and 80% of all liver cancer in the world is caused by chronic hepatitis B infection. Liver cancer usually develops in people between the ages of 35 to 65.

There are a few simple things you can do to break the cycle of hepatitis B infection in your family:

  1. Get tested. Awareness that you are a hepatitis B carrier can help prevent future spreading and infection.
  2. Get vaccinated. The hepatitis B virus can often times be contracted through loved ones so it is important that you and your family members get vaccinated.
  3. Talk to your doctor. Find a doctor who is knowledgeable about hepatitis B and discuss treatment options that would be best for you.


Jaime Venditti, State Coordinator, New York Health Works