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Hepatitis screening in Asian American groups launched

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December 17, 2012

More than 100 Asian American immigrants in Sacramento were screened for hepatitis B last week, thanks to a federal grant to the health system intended to reduce the burden of liver cancer in Asian Americans.

Sacramento-area residents await screenings at the Hmong Women's Heritage Association.
Sacramento-area residents await screenings at the Hmong Women's Heritage Association.

Asian Americans represent at least half of the people in the United States infected with hepatitis B, and they have the highest incidence of liver cancer, according to the U.S. Public Health Service. Still, many Asian Americans have not been tested for hepatitis B, the leading cause of liver cancer in this population and for which there are typically no symptoms. Hepatitis screening for those who have never been screened and vaccination for those who have not been infected are therefore critical to reducing spread of the virus and the toll of liver cancer.

The grant, one of nine from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), will facilitate the  screening of 1,000 Asian-Americans and other foreign-born individuals from areas where hepatitis B is endemic (the majority of Asia and parts of  Africa). Julie Dang, a community health program supervisor at the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center and study program manager, said that 40 individuals were screened for hepatitis B at the Paul Hom Asian Clinic and another 69 were screened at the Hmong Women’s Heritage Association last week.

Medical and undergraduate student volunteers
Medical and undergraduate students are among the hepatitis B screening team.

The screening team is made up of UC Davis and local Kaiser Permanente physicians, medical and undergraduate students, phlebotomists, and research staff in coordination with the Sacramento County Health Department and California Department of Public Health. Ronald Jan, a Sacramento vascular surgeon who volunteers as medical director at the UC Davis medical student-run Paul Hom clinic, is the CDC-funded grant’s principal investigator.

Additional screening events will be held over the next eight months at the Paul Hom Asian Clinic, local churches, temples, health fairs and community organizations, Patients who test negative for hepatitis B are encouraged to get vaccinated. Patients who test positive are referred to counseling and treatment.

In addition to boosting screening rates for hepatitis B, Moon Chen, associate director for cancer control at the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, is leading researchers in identifying possible associations between hepatitis B and other health conditions, such as cigarette smoking, body mass index, diabetes and hepatitis C. The research is part of the “Thousand Asian American Study,” which is funded by the UC Davis School of Medicine Dean’s office.