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Juliane Swan

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American Liver Foundation Rocky Mountain Division

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Hepatitis B

Author: Gilead Sciences, Inc
Originally published in Gilead Sciences, Inc

This educational article was contributed by Gilead Sciences, which develops treatments for chronic hepatitis B and other life-threatening diseases.

Hepatitis B: Facts We All Should Know

Hepatitis B is diagnosed easily with a simple blood test, may be manageable with the help of a physician and preventable with a safe and effective vaccine. Yet it remains a significant public health challenge in the United States – particularly among Asian Americans, who comprise more than half of the estimated 2 million people living with chronic hepatitis B in the country today.

Here are some commonly asked questions about hepatitis B, and the information we all should know in order to protect our health and that of our families, friends and communities.

What is chronic hepatitis B?
Chronic hepatitis B is the most common liver infection in the world, affecting 400 million people globally. It is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV), which is 100 times more easily transmitted than HIV and can be passed through blood and other bodily fluids (and not from casual contact or by sharing food or water). If not managed properly, the disease may slowly damage your liver over many years and lead to liver scarring (cirrhosis), liver cancer and even death. In fact, hepatitis B is second only to tobacco among cancer-causing agents.

Who is most affected by hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B can affect anyone, so it is important that everyone at risk get tested. However, nearly three-quarters of people affected by hepatitis B worldwide are of Asian descent. Here in the United States, half of those living with the disease – or 1 million people – are Asian American. As a result of hepatitis B, Asian Americans are nearly three times more likely to develop liver cancer than Caucasian Americans.

Why are Asian Americans so heavily impacted?
First-generation Asian Americans are particularly at risk for hepatitis B due to low infant vaccination rates against the disease in many parts of Asia. Most Asian Americans who have the disease contracted it during childbirth from their mothers – that’s why it is common to see several members of the same family affected by hepatitis B.

How do you know if you have Hepatitis B - what are the symptoms?

Actually, hepatitis B does not always cause noticeable symptoms until serious infection has set in. As many as two in three people who are infected with hepatitis B don’t know they have it – that’s why hepatitis B is often called a “silent disease.”

Where can I get tested?
There is a quick and simple blood test to check for hepatitis B, and it may be available for free or reduced cost through your physician and at community clinics and health fairs. The American Liver Foundation can help you find a testing opportunity near you.

Who should get the hepatitis B vaccine?

The hepatitis B vaccine is safe and effective, and has been available in the United States for many years. It is recommended that everyone who tests negative for hepatitis B receive the vaccine, as it can provide lifelong protection from the virus.

What if I test positive for chronic hepatitis B?
If you test positive for chronic hepatitis B, it is important to work closely with your physician to manage the disease, including regular screenings to monitor the health of your liver. There are also several treatments available that may help reduce the risk of further damage to your liver – so talk to your physician about whether treatment might be appropriate for you.

What is being done to address hepatitis B - and how can I help?
Thankfully there is a growing momentum to address hepatitis B, led by organizations like the American Liver Foundation as well as medical experts, policymakers, advocates and community groups. As a result of their efforts, government officials recently designated May as national Hepatitis Awareness Month and May 19 as Hepatitis Testing Day. In addition, events take place on an ongoing basis in Colorado and across the country to help spread the word about hepatitis B and the importance of screening.

For more information about hepatitis B or to get involved in awareness efforts, contact the American Liver Foundation at (303) 988-4388 or visit

For more information about the work of Gilead Sciences, please visit

Page updated: April 23rd, 2012


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