Chinese-Australians prone to undiagnosed cases of Hepatitis B

Medical experts say many Chinese-Australians living with Hepatitis B don't even know they have it - and the consequences of remaining undiagnosed could be fatal.

Chinese community leaders and health experts at the launch of the Hepatitis B campaign in Sydney.

Chinese community leaders and health experts at the launch of the Hepatitis B campaign in Sydney. Source: SBS

Sydney man Jackie Cheng lost his brother to liver cancer eight years ago.

It was only recently that Mr Cheng learnt his brother's death could have been prevented; the cancer was caused by Hepatitis B.

"If he had known earlier that he was meant to regularly monitor his Hepatitis B, and that monitoring would've prevented liver cancer and premature death, then of course he would have done it," Mr Cheng said.

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He still remembers the final moments he spent by his brother's side: "He was really frail. He became physically terrible."

Mr Cheng and his brother were both born in Tianjin, China. Up to eight per cent of Australians born in China have Hepatitis B, much higher than the general population.

Community leaders and health experts launched a campaign on Monday promoting awareness of Hepatitis B, specifically targeting the Chinese community.

Hepatitis NSW CEO Stuart Loveday addresses the audience at the Hepatitis B campaign launch in Sydney.
Hepatitis NSW CEO Stuart Loveday addresses the audience at the Hepatitis B campaign launch in Sydney. Source: SBS


CEO of Hepatitis New South Wales, Stuart Loveday, said the campaign is about prevention as much as ensuring those who test positive seek necessary treatment. 

"We want to send the message to people who have moved here from the Asia Pacific region, who have moved here from China, to ask 'Could I have Hepatitis B?’ and go for a test at their doctors. And if they haven't been exposed to Hepatitis B in the past, get a vaccine."

Often known as the 'silent killer', Hepatitis B is a virus that targets the liver. 

It is commonly transmitted from mother to child at birth, but can also be spread sexually, or through blood-to-blood contact.

Ernest Yung from the Chinese Australian Services Society said stigma and discrimination surrounding Hepatitis B is rife in the Chinese-Australian community. 

"They are afraid that if they do the test and they find out they are a Hepatitis B carrier, other people will stay away from them," Mr Yung said, adding that people might be afraid of getting transmission just by talking or having dinner with a carrier.

Dr Alice Lee is a Sydney-based liver specialist and has worked with many Chinese patients suffering from Hepatitis B.

She also believes the stigma surrounding the virus needs to be lifted to ensure there is more discussion, especially between family members.

“If there’s stigma around something, you don’t tend to talk about it. So you don’t tell your family that you have Hepatitis B, and your family members may also have Hepatitis and need to be screened. That shame surrounding Hepatitis B may actually prevent you from getting access to care.”

She said there is often a misconception that it is a “dirty disease” and she has seen examples where it has led to family breakdowns.

“One of my patients said, ‘My in-laws want me to get divorced because I have Hepatitis B.’ The in-law is saying to the husband you have to divorce this women because she has this virus. It is so ludicrous. It’s unimaginable why people would think that way.”

Nearly 240,000 Australians have chronic Hepatitis B, but 38 per cent remain undiagnosed.

Health organisations hope this latest campaign will not only raise awareness about Hepatitis B within the Chinese community, but also dispel myths about the illness and break down stigma.




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3 min read
Published 23 October 2017 at 7:57pm
By Lydia Feng