May 11, 2:02 | SF Sexual Health Examiner | Jennifer Gunter
May is hepatitis B awareness month - more than 400 million people worldwide are infected with this virus. Hepatitis B can be acquired by sexual contact (hepatitis B is 100 times more infectious than HIV), by sharing needles, and at birth from a mother to her baby. Infections with hepatitis B may cause a flu-like illness and some people will develop jaundice (a yellow color of the skin) due to liver inflammation. The liver typically repairs itself within a month or two, although some people will develop potentially fatal liver failure. For most people, however, hepatitis B is a silent infection. While you may feel well, years of this behind the scenes damage exacts a toll from the liver: almost 80% of liver cancers are caused by hepatitis B. Hepatitis B also causes chronic liver damage and liver failure.
Hepatitis B is a greater health problem in the Bay Area compared with other parts of the country due to the high prevalence of infection in the Asian community: 1 in 10 Asian Americans is infected with hepatitis B compared with 1 in 1,000 for the general population. Many Asians and Pacific Islanders are infected at birth, as hepatitis B infection is endemic in many parts of Asia and the Pacific Rim. Infection at birth caries the greatest risk of liver cancer. Consequently, San Francisco has the highest rate of hepatitis B induced liver cancer in the United States.
San Francisco Hep B Free is a citywide campaign to turn San Francisco into the first hepatitis B free city in the United States. The campaign has several approaches:
* Get doctors to take a pledge to test those people at risk for hepatitis.
* Raise awareness among the general public about hepatitis B and the need for testing. Some of the higher risk groups include the following: Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, people with multiple sexual partners, people with a history of sexually transmitted diseases, pregnant women, IV drug users, and men who have sex with men. Because hepatitis B is so infectious, non-sexual household contact should also be tested.
* Offer free testing. Find a testing site at www.sfhepbfree.org or call 1-888-311-3331. Those who test positive can take precautions to protect their household and sexual contacts.
* Encourage vaccination. The three shot hepatitis B series offers protection from hepatitis B for life. If every one were vaccinated, hepatitis B could be eradicated.
For more info: check out www.sfhepbfree.org