Public 'lacks awareness' of hepatitis B
By Louise Ho
Updated: 2007-12-11 07:23

HONG KONG: Despite being aware that hepatitis B can lead to liver cancer, many carriers of the disease have not been properly screened for the virus nor do they know how to manage their condition, a survey by the Chinese University of Hong Kong has revealed.

Between May and July, medical researchers at the university's Center for Liver Health interviewed 3,318 people aged 15 to 64. Based on their findings, which were published yesterday, they estimated that as many as 58 percent of people have never taken a hepatitis B virus test.

They also suggested that 5 percent of the population were related to someone with hepatitis B, placing them at a high risk of becoming infected themselves.

Of those in the high-risk group, 63 percent had not been screened for hepatitis B, the research said.

Follow-up interviews with about 300 hepatitis B carriers showed that although 68 percent knew the disease could cause liver cancer, more than 90 percent were unaware that a DNA test could help assess their risk of contracting it.

Most carriers said they had been diagnosed following a blood test or liver enzyme test.

Vincent Wong, assistant professor of medicine and therapeutics at the university, said clinical studies had suggested that DNA testing was effective in assessing the condition of hepatitis B carriers.

It can also predict the risk of developing liver cirrhosis and liver cancer, he said.

However, he said the survey showed that many carriers were unaware of new assessments like the DNA test.

"Without a DNA test a patient's risk level cannot be assessed, nor can it be determined if they need treatment," he said.

He urged everyone, especially those in the high-risk group, to be screened for hepatitis B, and added carriers should take the test to help with their treatment and reduce complications.

Henry Chan, director of the Center for Liver Health said there is now a global drive to reduce the number of people infected with hepatitis B.

However, he said it was possible that people were not taking DNA tests because they were not provided free in hospitals. The government should take the lead in increasing public awareness of the disease, he said.

(China Daily 12/11/2007 page5)