DALY CITY, California—Among Asians, Filipinos are the third-most chronically infected with the deadly Hepatitis B disease, next only to Chinese (first) and Vietnamese (second), reported Genevieve V. Jopanda, executive director of the San Francisco Hep B Free Campaign.
At the launching of the Free Hep B test clinic at the North East Medical Services (NEMS) in Daly City on Thursday, Jopanda explained that as many as 1 in 10 Asian and Pacific Islanders are infected with Hepatitis B worldwide.
“Of these, two out of three don’t know they are infected, and one in four will develop liver cancer or liver disease if untreated,” Jopanda said, noting that nearly 80 percent of all liver cancers is directly associated with chronic hepatitis B.
The campaign started in San Francisco in coordination with the city’s Public Health Clinic, Asian Week Foundation and the City of San Jose.
Daly City Mayor Raymond A. Buenaventura encouraged the Filipino-American community to participate in the free hepatitis B testing. “Get tested and be a hero to yourself and family members by getting tested.”
“Hepatitis B is a silent killer like diabetes,” Buenaventura said. “I’ve seen the devastation from this disease that has caused my family. We have to be vigilant and it is good that we have medical professionals for this free screening.”
Stuart Fong, chair of the San Francisco Hep B Free Governance Council, said Free Hep B Campaign is all about “bringing the community together,” with independent clinics set upfor the public to get free screening.
Fong explained that with Asians making up 37 percent of San Francisco’s residents, “or at least, 20 percent of the Bay area population,” getting tested or properly screened practically “involves everybody.”
The free hep B screening has been given by the nonprofit NEMS for four years now, said its president and chief executive officer Eddie Chan.
“We could provide treatment to those infected, through with Medicare or the state program for underserved communities,” Chan said. “We’re expanding the program to Daly City and we follow where the community is.”
Cancer and cirrhosis
Spearheading the Daly City Free Hep B screening drive is Dr. Kenneth B. Tai, M.D., NEMS Medical Director.
“I’ve been practicing for eight years, and one patient came to my office for abdominal pain and swelling,” Tai recalled. “This patient was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver…and later died. “
Hepatitis B infection is a highly prevalent lethal disease that results in liver failure or liver cancer when left unattended, Tai told INQUIRER.net. Tai said that getting tested for hepatitis B should be a priority. “I have a lot of patients detected positive with the disease but were now cured with our help.”
At least, 10,500 hepatitis tests were performed in the last seven years, Tai said, and close to 7,000 vaccines were used. The “positive” rate has decreased by seven percent from the national average of 10 percent or 1 in 10 Asians.
Tai said the screening procedure is as simple as getting the free test, “and if it turns out positive, you should see a doctor for further tests on an annual basis including treatment.”
The NEMS clinic in Daly City is holding a free hepatitis B screening every Thursday between 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. No appointment is necessary.
Low income patients can get free testing plus vaccination on a discounted rate depending on income. Both the San Mateo and San Francisco counties give support for the screenings. NEMS is trying to solicit more support from various cities.
Across the globe, approximately one million people die from liver cancer each year as a direct result of hepatitis B. Unlike other diseases, the hepatitis B virus quietly and continuously attacks the liver over many years often without creating noticeable symptoms.
The majority of those chronically infected contract the disease unknowingly at birth from their mothers. For chronic carriers, there is a significant increased risk of developing serious liver complications as early as one’s mid-twenties.
Chronic carriers might feel and test perfectly healthy and still develop deadly liver cancer. Simple but specific tests must be used to detect the virus. Unfortunately, these tests are not normally given during checkups and otherwise healthy individuals become victims.
An affordable vaccine exists that protects an individual for life.