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Thursday 24th May 2018

East Asians 'ignorant' of hep B

30th October 2007

Hepatitis B continues to spread in east and southeast Asia, largely as a result of ignorance of the disease among the population.


Around 360 million people globally are affected by chronic hepatitis B, a virus which is transmitted via infected body fluids, most often sexually or from mother to child.

It is the 10th leading cause of death around the world, with 281 million infections in Asian countries. One in four people who get hepatitis B in the region will die from cirrhosis - scarring of the liver - or liver cancer.

Although about 70% of patients report jaundice, fatigue, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea or joint pain, 30% are symptom-free, especially children.

A recent survey of 1,500 people with chronic hepatitis B in China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam, showed that many do not realise they are infected before it is too late, or are then unwilling to undergo treatment.

According to Nancy Leung, a hepatitis B expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, ignorance helps the transmission of this disease and results in people giving up on the chance of proper treatment because they often don't experience symptoms.

Although 77% of the hepatitis B patients said they knew "an average or a great deal" about the disease, around a third of them were unaware that the main routes of transmission were from mother-to-child and through sex.

Many mistook their disease for hepatitis A, with 73% in China, 70% in the Philippines and 63% in Singapore thinking that "eating infected food" was the major cause, and with 38% saying they did not know how they became infected.

Even in highly educated and economically developed Hong Kong, 10% of the population of seven million suffer from chronic hepatitis B, with only a small fraction of them receiving care.

Chronic hepatitis B sufferers are usually people who have been infected by their mother in the womb, or from infected body fluids during childhood. Adult patients will usually be cured, or die of related problems.


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