Many Chinese-Australians are likely to have the virus Hepatitis B, according to medical experts, but dont know they have it.
Hepatitis B is the most common liver infection in the world, affecting an estimated 257 million people worldwide. If it is not diagnosed and managed, infection can lead to cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver cancer, or liver failure. Up to 1 in 4 people with chronic Hepatitis B will die from liver cancer or liver failure, without treatment.
In Australia, more than 232,000 people have chronic Hepatitis B. One-third of people living with chronic Hepatitis B in Australia have not been diagnosed. Up to 8% of Australians born in China have Hepatitis B, much higher than the general population.
Community leaders and health experts launched a campaign last month to promote awareness of the virus, specifically targeting the Chinese community.
Hepatitis B can be transmitted from person to person through sex or blood-to-blood contact, but many people acquire it at birth from their mothers. A safe and highly effective vaccine is available. In China, the proportion of children aged under five who had chronic Hepatitis B fell from 9.7% in 1992 to 1% in 2006 after a vaccination program was introduced.
Another form of the virus, Hepatitis D, can only infect people who also have Hepatitis B. It is estimated that approximately 5% of people living with Hepatitis B also have Hepatitis D, which can lead to more severe liver disease.
Ernest Yung from the Chinese Australian Services Society told SBS News that many people in the Chinese-Australian community are afraid to be tested for Hepatitis B, for fear that other people will avoid them. However, it is not infectious like Hepatitis A, which can be spread simply by sharing food or eating utensils.
A video interview with Professor Narci Teoh is available in Chinese Mandarin, as well as English, at www.hepatitisaustralia.com/videos.