(BPT) - More than 1 million Americans have a lifelong, or chronic, infection of hepatitis B. This includes one out of every 12 Asian Americans. If you or your parents were born in Asia or the Pacific Islands, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you get tested for hepatitis B.
Hepatitis B is common in many parts of the world and spreads easily. Many people with chronic hepatitis B got the virus as infants or young children when they came into contact with blood or other body fluids of someone with the virus.
“Asian American and Pacific Islanders make up 5 percent of the total population in the United States, but account for more than 50 percent of Americans living with chronic hepatitis B,” says Joan Block, executive director of the Hepatitis B Foundation (HBF) and co-chair of Hep B United, a national campaign to address and eliminate hepatitis B. “Testing for hepatitis B could save your life.”
Here are five reasons why you should get tested for hepatitis B:
1. Hepatitis B is serious
In the United States, chronic hepatitis B infection results in thousands of deaths per year. If left untreated, up to 25 percent of people with hepatitis B develop serious liver problems such as cirrhosis and even liver cancer. Liver cancer caused by the hepatitis B virus is a leading cause of cancer deaths among Asian Americans.
2. Two out of three Asian Americans with hepatitis B don’t know they are infected
People can live with hepatitis B without having any symptoms or feeling sick. Often, people don’t know they have hepatitis B until they have been tested.
“A staggering two out of three Asian Americans living with chronic hepatitis B do not know they are infected,” says Block. “Getting a simple blood test is the only way to know if you have been infected with the virus.”
3. Treatments can be lifesaving
Testing can help some people find out if they have hepatitis B in time to benefit from medical care and treatments that can save their lives. For many, treatments can help prevent serious liver damage.
“Because of the high rate of infection among Asian Americans, testing among this population is critical to identify people living with chronic hepatitis B and help them access lifesaving medical care,” says Jeffrey Caballero, executive director of the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations (AAPCHO) and co-chair of Hep B United.
4. The vaccine can protect people who have not been infected with hepatitis B
The hepatitis B vaccine is effective and can prevent many people from getting hepatitis B. People who get tested and do not have hepatitis B can get the hepatitis B vaccine. This protects them from getting the virus.
However, the vaccine cannot help people who already have hepatitis B. Many people with chronic hepatitis B were infected as infants or young children, before the hepatitis B vaccine was widely available. Hepatitis B spreads easily through blood or other body fluids, from someone who has hepatitis B, such as from an infected mother to her baby at birth. Today, the CDC recommends the hepatitis B vaccine for all babies born in the United States, as well as anyone else at risk for hepatitis B.
5. People who have hepatitis B can help protect their family
People who get tested and find out they have hepatitis B can encourage hepatitis B testing for family members and anyone living with them. Vaccinating family members who do not have hepatitis B can prevent further spread of the virus.
“Testing can also help identify other people, such as family members or sexual partners, who may be at risk for getting the disease,” says Caballero. “Remember, loving your family starts with caring for yourself, so talk to your doctor about getting tested for hepatitis B.”