Hepatitis Awareness Month: Focus on Hepatitis B

Dr. Prakash Kotecha

Public Health Specialist, APCA

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Hepatitis Awareness Month: Focus on Hepatitis B

The month of May is designated as Hepatitis Awareness Month in the United States. During May, Asian Pacific Community in Action works to educate and create awareness on the impact of these hidden epidemics by raising awareness of viral hepatitis while encouraging testing and vaccination. Hepatitis Awareness Month activities help to improve everyone’s understanding of viral hepatitis transmission and risk factors and to decrease social stigma against viral hepatitis.          

What is Viral Hepatitis?

Viral hepatitis — a group of infectious diseases known as hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E — affects millions of people worldwide. Viral hepatitis is a serious, preventable public health threat that puts people who are infected at increased risk for liver disease, cancer, and death. 

It is estimated that 3.3 million Americans are living with chronic viral hepatitis: 862,000 with hepatitis B and 2.4 million with hepatitis C.  Hepatitis A and hepatitis B are preventable by vaccines, and hepatitis C is curable in one short course of treatment. Despite this, the nation faces unprecedented hepatitis. Low coverage of testing and treatment is the most important gap and has worsened further during the pandemic of Covid-19. It needs to be addressed to achieve the global elimination goals by 2030. 

What is hepatitis B? 

Hepatitis B is the world’s most common serious liver infection. It is caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV) that attacks liver cells and can lead to liver failure, cirrhosis (scarring) or cancer of the liver later in life. Approximately 90% of healthy adults who are exposed to the hepatitis B virus (HBV) recover on their own and develop the protective surface antibody. However, 10% of infected adults, 50% of infected children and 90% of infected babies are unable to get rid of the virus and develop chronic infection. These people need further evaluation by a liver specialist or doctor knowledgeable about hepatitis B. Infected persons may have no symptoms for many years but can develop symptoms or cancer at a later date. 

Why is Hepatitis B important?

Hepatitis B infection is 10 times more common than HIV and 50 to 100 times more infectious than HIV. Large number of those having Hepatitis B infection are not even aware that they have Hep B infection. Since infection can lead to complete elimination in some with immunity, while in others it may lead to acute or chronic infection, it is important that those who are at high risk or suspected to have infection, and that would include all American Asians, that they undergo testing, and the results are interpreted by those who understand hepatitis B well. At present Hepatitis B screening is included in the health insurance coverage for all Asians and the health insurance will cover it free of cost if the doctor prescribes the test. 

Understanding Hepatitis B Blood Tests

The 3-part hepatitis B blood panel (triple panel test) includes the following: 

1. Hepatitis B Surface Antigen (HBsAg): The “surface antigen” is part of the hepatitis B virus that is found in the blood of someone who is infected. If this test is positive, then the hepatitis B virus is present. He may or may not have symptoms. 

2. Hepatitis B Surface Antibody (HBsAb or anti-HBs): The “surface antibody” is formed in response to the hepatitis B virus. Your body can make this antibody if you have been vaccinated, or if you have recovered from a hepatitis B infection. If this test is positive, then your immune system has successfully developed a protective antibody against the hepatitis B virus. This will provide long-term protection against future hepatitis B infection. Someone who is surface antibody positive is not currently infected and cannot pass the virus on to others. That person does not need vaccination. 

3. Hepatitis B Core Antibody (HBcAb or anti-HBc): This antibody does not provide any protection or immunity against the hepatitis B virus. A positive test indicates that a person may have been exposed to the hepatitis B virus. This test is often used by blood banks to screen blood donations. However, all three test results are needed to make a diagnosis.

Depending upon the results, the patient may be assured for his/her immune status, may be watched further for any progress of the disease, or may be recommended for the vaccination. 

In 2022, 13% of the people suffering from hepatitis B infection were aware of their infection and only 3% were on treatment, globally as reported by the World Health Organization.

Why is Hepatitis B Knowledge and Action more important for Asians in the USA? 

  • One in 12 Asians American has Hepatitis B against 1 in 1000 White Americans.
  • Of total population Asians are 5% but of total Hepatitis cases Asians are 50%!!
  • Asian American born outside the USA are 20 times more likely to have Hepatitis B than those born in the USA.
  • Asians are 13 times more likely to develop liver cancer and are more likely to die from Hepatitis B related causes compared with any other group.

What Preventive Actions Can We Take?

  • Get educated and then educate others about Hepatitis B.
  • Get tested for HBV.
  • Get protected with HBV vaccine,
  • Hepatitis B has no treatment for cure. Prevention is the only way forward.


Hepatitis B is preventable with a vaccine.

All babies should receive the hepatitis B vaccine as soon as possible after birth (within 24 hours). This is followed by two or three doses of hepatitis B vaccine at least four weeks apart.

Booster vaccines are not usually required for people who have completed the three-dose vaccination series.

The vaccine protects against hepatitis B for at least 20 years and probably for life.

Hepatitis B can be passed from mother to child. This can be prevented by taking antiviral medicines to prevent transmission, in addition to the vaccine.

To reduce the risk of getting or spreading hepatitis B:

  • Practice safe sex by using condoms and reducing the number of sexual partners.
  • Avoid sharing needles or any equipment used for injecting drugs, piercing, or tattooing.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after coming into contact with blood, body fluids, or contaminated surfaces.
  • Get a hepatitis B vaccine if working in a healthcare setting.

Who Discovered Hepatitis B Virus and Hep B Vaccine?

Nobel Laureate Baruch Samuel Blumberg (called Berry) discovered the hepatitis B virus and the vaccine. His contribution is way more than the Nobel Prize that he received. In reference to Blumberg’s discovery of the Hepatitis B vaccine, former NASA administrator Daniel Goldin said, “Our planet is an improved place as a result of Barry’s few short days in residence”. At Asian Pacific Community in Action, we are committed to protect the health of Asian Americans in Arizona and help the community to get awareness of hepatitis B, assist them in getting tested and educate them of their rights and eligibility for getting tested for HBV. 

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