Discussion about chronic illnesses and diseases are oftentimes avoided within Vietnamese households. Stigmas about causes and effects of chronic diseases only create dialogue when it involves a family member, but not many Vietnamese family members are courageous enough to speak up about the truth and break those stigmas—the truth about the “silent killer.”
240 million people worldwide have chronic hepatitis B infection (HBV)—that is 1/20 people. Foreign-born individuals, and children of foreign-born parents are more likely to get hepatitis B. HBV causes 60-80% of primary liver cancer, which is the second leading cause of cancer death, and the seventh leading cause of death all-around. 1/12 foreign-born Asian and Pacific Islanders are chronically infected with HBV. But 1/8 Vietnamese-Americans are infected with HBV and don’t know about it. Once infected, ¼ people will die of liver cancer because they are not aware of the symptoms, and they refuse to get treatment. Hepatitis B is a viral infection that attacks the liver and can cause chronic liver cancer, liver cirrhosis.
In many Asian households, it is assumed that people get hepatitis B by eating contaminated food. However, hepatitis B is only spread through blood, sex, and through mother-to-child birth. Hepatitis B is an asymptomatic disease—meaning that people with hepatitis B will not show any symptoms and will not feel sick. Only 30% of the people who are infected with the virus will show any signs of hepatitis B. The only way to know if you have HBV is to ask your doctor to do a hepatitis B blood test to confirm if you are positive for the virus. Hepatitis B cannot be inherited from your parents. However, pregnant women with hepatitis B can spread the virus to their babies during childbirth. Newborn babies are able to get the vaccination at birth to prevent them from being infected with HBV, along with three further doses to complete the series.
There is no cure for hepatitis B, but it is preventable with 3 vaccine shots taken over a series of six months that will protect you for life. If you are positive for hepatitis B, you can still live a normal and healthy life with regular testing and screening from your medical doctor.
Vietnam is one of the countries with the highest prevalence of hepatitis B: 8.6 million people are hepatitis B-positive. However, under the Affordable Care Act, hepatitis B testing and vaccination is free. People who fall under the high-risk groups—foreign-born individuals and children of foreign-born parents—may acquire the infection and should still be vaccinated. By raising awareness within the Vietnamese community, all Vietnamese-Americans will be one step closer to eliminate the leading cause of liver cancer. Join thousands of others around the world in unity to celebrate World Hepatitis Day every July 28th—it is only through education and mobilizing resources will our community be eliminated of the silent killer.
For more information about the global JOINJADE campaign to help end liver cancer, please visit: liver.stanford.edu/
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With her driving passion of health sciences, Jullianne aims to provide service, research, and education towards Asian-American communities in order to close the gap of health disparities that people of color face. She has worked alongside physicians and surgeons in the San Joaquin County as a Decision Medicine Intern, and has worked closely with the Vietnamese-American community in the Bay Area to raise awareness about unspoken diseases as a Community Health Outreach Intern at the Asian Liver Center of Stanford University. As an aspiring Physician Assistant with a concentrated service within the Asian-American community, Jullianne hopes to discuss and expose the unspoken diseases and health issues that do not create dialogue within the Vietnamese household and community.