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Chronic Hepatitis B and Asian & Pacific Islanders

What is Hepatitis B?

"Hepatitis" means inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis B is a contagious liver disease that results from infection with the Hepatitis B virus. When a person becomes infected, the Hepatitis B virus can stay in the person's body for the rest of his or her life and cause serious liver problems, including liver cancer. Unfortunately, up to two-thirds of Americans with chronic hepatitis B may be living with the virus and do not know they are infected.

Chronic Hepatitis B Fast Facts

  • Chronic Hepatitis B is a global public health issue. 350 million people worldwide are living with chronic Hepatitis B, including 1.2 million in the United States.
  • The hepatitis B virus is very infectious; it is 50-100 times more infectious than the HIV virus.
  • The virus is spread through contact with blood or other body fluids and can be spread from an infected mother to her baby at birth.
  • Hepatitis B can be prevented with the hepatitis B vaccine, but millions of people got infected when they were infants or during early childhood, before the availability and widespread use of the Hepatitis B vaccine.
  • The Hepatitis B virus has been spread from generation to generation, especially in countries without infant vaccination programs.
  • The risk for developing chronic Hepatitis B depends on a person's age when first infected.
    • Infants who get infected have a 90% chance of developing a life-long, chronic infection.
    • If infected as an adult, most people are able to "clear" the Hepatitis B virus.
  • Chronic Hepatitis B is often "silent"- many people can go up to 20-30 years without symptoms or feeling sick.
  • Approximately 15%-25% of people with chronic Hepatitis B develop serious liver problems, which can include liver damage, cirrhosis, liver failure, or liver cancer.

Hepatitis B and APIs

Photo: Worldwide Rates of Chronic Hepatitis B Map

In the United States, Asian and Pacific Islanders(APIs) make up less than 5% of the total population, but account for more than 50% of Americans living with chronic Hepatitis B. Despite the high rates of infection, many APIs are not tested for Hepatitis B and are unaware of their infection. As a result, chronic Hepatitis B and associated liver cancer in APIs is one of the most serious health disparities in the United States.

  • In the United States, nearly 70% of APIs were born or have parents born in countries where Hepatitis B is common.
  • Hepatitis B-related liver cancer incidence is highest among APIs and is a leading cause of cancer deaths in this population.
  • The death rate from Hepatitis B among APIs is 7 times greater than deaths among whites.
  • Knowledge of Hepatitis B varies greatly in the API community and many misconceptions exist. The lack of knowledge and awareness of the disease significantly contributes to the low testing rates in the API population.
  • Limited English proficiency can be a significant barrier to seeking and receiving Hepatitis B related care and services.

Asian and Pacific Islanders (APIs ) refer to a diverse group of people from many regions throughout the world including the Far East, Southeast Asia, Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, Marshall and other Pacific Islands.

Importance of Service/Community Organizations

There are numerous organizations throughout the Unites States that play critical roles in community health promotion, education, health advocacy, and capacity building to improve the health of Asian and Pacific Islander communities. Many of these organizations focus specifically on Hepatitis B or have Hepatitis B as a major component of their organization because of the high prevalence in the community.

Many organizations that serve the API community employ culturally and linguistically appropriate health programs to reach their targeted audience. For instance, screenings and vaccination clinics can be held at locations that are both familiar and easily accessible to community members and employ staff who can communicate with clients in their primary language. Providing appropriate linkage to care for either the hepatitis B vaccine or medical follow-up for chronic infection is also a crucial component in reducing the burden of Hepatitis B.

Hepatitis B: Action Needed

  • CDC recommends testing all people who were born in countries where Hepatitis B is common.
  • CDC recommends testing all people who were not vaccinated as infants in the United States and who have a parent that was born in a country with high rates of Hepatitis B.
  • Early diagnosis of Hepatitis B can prevent life threatening liver disease and liver cancer.
  • Testing of Asian & Pacific Islanders needs to increase in order to identify those living with chronic Hepatitis B and help them to access lifesaving medical care.

More Information

CDC works 24/7 saving lives and protecting people from health threats to have a more secure nation. A US federal agency, CDC helps make the healthy choice the easy choice by putting science and prevention into action. CDC works to help people live longer, healthier and more productive lives.

  • Page last reviewed: August 15, 2011 (archived document)
  • Content source:
    • Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs
    • Page maintained by: Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs