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Hepatitis B virus carriers abandoned by society
( 2003-11-13 15:43) (Shanghai Star)

HEPATITIS B virus (HBV) became the bane of An Xin's existence.

The 32-year-old woman, who is working in Nanjing, East China's Jiangsu Province, ended her nine-year-old marriage this March.

"My biggest regret was that I did not have my own baby," she said. "He (her ex-husband) wanted a baby, but not my baby."

Healthy people usually avoid HBV carriers like the plague, who feel abandoned by others. [File photo]

As an HBV carrier, An had to choose abortion.

"He said he did not want an unhealthy child," she said, "even though modern medicine can work well to block the spread from mother to baby."

Her marriage was finally ruined after three abortions.

An Xin is not the woman's real name, but that of the heroine of the popular novel Jade Kwan-yin, which has been adapted for TV and won great applause. In the novel, the heroine is an antidrug policewoman who lost her child, husband, and finally left her lover and devoted herself to her career.

"I love the character because she is so strong-willed," An said. "Thus, I adopted her name as my nickname."

An recalled that she was found to be a carrier at the age of 12, yet no one else from her family has been found to be infected.

"Maybe I got the virus through an injection," she said.

This is a view shared by some HBV carriers because in the past, Chinese hospitals did not use disposable syringes. Although nurses changed the needles, a syringe would usually be used for several patients, which might have led to the spread of the virus.

Nowadays, HBV has become a big obstacle to the education, work and even marriages of carriers.

A person is usually considered as an HBV carrier if three out of five important indexes in a special hepatitis B examination are positive.

People with the HBV virus are considered to be carriers but not patients as long as their liver function is OK. Statistics show that China has a total of 130 million HBV carriers today.

In China, HBV carriers are divided into two groups called da san yang (three big positive indexes) and xiao san yang (three small positive indexes) respectively. Doctors consider the former to be active sufferers of the HBV virus, with a large number of viruses being replicated, while the latter group carry the virus in a relatively steady state.

Fortunately the disease caused An little trouble in her education and work. Graduating from university in 1993, she found employment with an institute in Nanjing.

"We were not asked to go to hospital for a physical examination that year," she said.

However, many companies have begun asking job-hunters to take physical checks-ups, including liver function and important hepatitis B indexes. In particular the recruitment of public servants has become sensitive to HBV status in many places.

Service unwanted

In almost every province, people with da san yang are rejected for public service, while different provinces have different regulations on recruiting people with xiao san yang. South China's Guangdong Province, for instance, has stipulated that HBV carriers with xiao san yang are qualified to take part in the public service examinations.

In April 2003, a senior university student named Zhou Yichao in East China's Zhejiang Province stabbed two officials, resulting in one death, after he discovered that he was an HBV carrier with xiao san yang, and was excluded from public service even after passing all examinations and interviews.

The case ignited a heated discussion on how to protect the rights of HBV carriers, arousing considerable media interest. In September, a new round of discussion was sparked when the 22-year-old killer was sentenced to death in the first instance. Many reports mentioned the way the furious Zhou tore open the judgment after receiving it from the court.

In Shanghai, HBV carriers have little opportunity to find employment in governmental departments.

"Those with da san yang are absolutely disqualified," said an official from the Public Servant Administration Department of the Shanghai Personnel Bureau.

"For those with xiao san yang, the decision depends on the different bureaux, which may have different requirements concerning their officials. Also, each bureau has its own criterion for physical examination."

The official said that each bureau has the right to decide whether to recruit people with xiao san yang.

Currently, many companies and enterprise also refuse to employ HBV carriers. They ask those job-hunters who pass interviews to have a medical examination before signing a contract. Some enterprises may even fire their employees if they find they are HBV carriers.

"I knew one person who was refused employment with a large company when he was found to be an HBV carrier," said David Mao, who used to be an HR worker, a post which is in charge of recruiting employees.

"In fact, a company wants to reduce its risks in this way," he added.

Miserable victims

However, to most HBV carriers, these attitudes amount to a kind of discrimination against them.

"It is also a violation of privacy," said one HBV carrier who asked to be identified as Hu. "An HBV carrier should have his or her own right to live, study and work."

The HBV was detected in Hu's body when he was in high school, although none of his other family members tested positive for the virus.

Graduating from university in 1997, He is now working in a joint-venture. His HBV has remained a secret from his colleagues.

Because of the virus, Hu lost his girlfriend, who was afraid of hepatitis B.

"Also, I never touch my sister's child, and I do not have dinner with my family," he said.

Beyond his family members, only a few bosom friends knew Hu was an HBV carrier.

"If I job hop and need to have a medical examination, I will ask a friend to lend blood in my place," he said.

According to Hu, such methods have become popular with HBV carriers.

"HBV carriers need work, so they have to cheat doctors and employers," he said. "My sister once covered for her friend by lending blood to fool a liver examination."

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