Educating People in DC Area on the Silent Killer of Viral Hepatitis

January 31, 2013 Updated: October 1, 2015
 Jane Pan speaking for the Hepatitis B Initiative of Washington, D.C, Oct. 23, 2011. (Tam Duong)
Jane Pan speaking for the Hepatitis B Initiative of Washington, D.C, Oct. 23, 2011. (Tam Duong)

Viral hepatitis (Hepatitis A, B & C) is the leading infectious cause of death in the United States, but people have little awareness of the virus, including many health care providers, according to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Every year, viral hepatitis takes the lives of 12,000-15,000 Americans, yet it remains largely unknown to the general public, says HHS.

One particular deadly strain of viral hepatitis is Hepatitis B, which is the most common virus in the world. About 2 billion people have been infected (1 out of 3 people), 400 million people are chronically infected, 10-30 million will become infected each year, and an estimated 1 million people die each year from Hepatitis B and its complications.

“There’s a stigma connected with the disease. That’s why they call it a silent killer,” said Jane Pan, the executive director of Hepatitis B Initiative of Washington, DC (HBI-DC) in an interview with The Epoch Times. She thinks it is very important to notice that “the disease is winning because of our silence.”

The Hepatitis B Initiative of Washington, DC was established in Washington Metropolitan Area in 2002.

Because most persons who are infected don’t know they have it, viral hepatitis is often referred to as a “silent epidemic.” The HBI-DC wants to change that. Pan said her organization organizes free education, screening and vaccination events in collaboration with faith-based and community based organizations in Washington Metropolitan Area.

In the United Sates, Hepatitis B infects an estimated 800,000-1.4 million Americans. Hepatitis B is a vaccine-preventable disease. The Hepatitis B virus is transmitted through direct blood to blood contact, unprotected sex, use of unsterile needles, and from an infected mother to her newborn child, according to the HBI-DC website.

Asians More at Risk

More than half of Americans with chronic Hepatitis B are Asian and Pacific Islanders (API), says the HBI-DC website. So, Asians are disproportionately impacted by the Hepatitis B virus. Most APIs in the United States were infected when they were newborns or young children.

The disease ranges in severity from being a mild ailment lasting a few weeks to a serious, even life threatening, lifelong illness, according to the HBI website. One in four with the infection will come down with liver cancer.

“The mission of the Hepatitis B Initiative is providing education,” says Pan. It’s about educating people, particularly APIs and, more recently, African immigrants about the risks and prevention, she said.

“Approximately 1 in 12 APIs are living with chronic Hepatitis B, but most do not know it,” said Pan. The incidence of Hepatitis B induced cancer is highest among APIs. It is seven times more likely for APIs to die from Hepatitis B than whites.

“This work is the most rewarding job I’ve ever had, because it’s all about saving lives,” said Pan, a microbiologist, who was born in Shanghai, grew up in Hong Kong, and came to the United States when she was 16.

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