In New York City, there are more than 100,000 people living with hepatitis B, but many of them are unaware of it. That’s because patients often shows no symptoms until the virus is in its deadly late stages, earning it the name of the “silent killer.” Though the subject of hepatitis B doesn’t attract as much public attention as HIV/AIDS, the numbers of those affected in New York are comparable. The silent truth is that we still don’t know how many people are living with the disease. That’s why City Council members Margaret Chin, Corey Johnson, and Peter Koo have put hepatitis awareness and prevention high on their agendas this year.
Yesterday, Council Members Chin, and Koo joined the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center, Chinese American Medical Society and other healthcare advocates at City Hall to designate July 21 to 27, New York City’s first ever Hepatitis B Awareness Week. The efforts are specifically aimed at raising awareness in Asian communities, encouraging support for those living with the disease, and prompting all New Yorkers to get vaccinated and tested for Hep B.
Among the City’s newly reported cases of the virus, around two-thirds occur in immigrants from Asian countries, where the virus is moderately or highly endemic. In the United States, one in 12 Asian Americans is infected with chronic hepatitis B, which can severely damage the liver for 20 to 30 years without any symptoms. If left undetected and untreated, one in 4 people with hepatitis B can find themselves with cirrhosis or end-stage liver cancer.
Dr. Vivian Huang, Hepatitis B Program Director at the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center, emphasized the importance of getting tested and seeking medical care if necessary. Hep B is completely preventable through immunization and can be treated if detected early. The virus can be transmitted through the sharing of body fluids, unprotected sex, intravenous drug use, and childbirth from an infected mother.
“Joining with healthcare providers and advocates to launch the first-ever NYC Hepatitis B Awareness Week is another step in our collaborative effort to combat viral hepatitis in vulnerable communities across the city. We’re pushing for legislation, funding and general awareness to make sure that all member of the public have access to every tool in the fight against hepatitis,” said Council member Margaret Chin.
Council Members Chin, Johnson, and Koo have recently introduced legislation that would require the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to publish an annual report on its efforts to identify and prevent the spread of both hepatitis B and C. A $750,000 hepatitis treatment initiative is part of the recently approved city budget.
Another speaker at today’s event was writing and communications consultant, Sue Preziotti, who shared the story of her father’s battle with hepatitis B. Right in line with many of the statistics presented, he lived with the disease for decades without being aware of it. By the time Preziotti’s dad was diagnosed, he had liver cancer along with hepatitis B. He passed away a few months later.
In addition to encouraging people to know their status, NYC Hepatitis B Awareness Week has also organized a number of free programs for those who are interested in learning more.
Today from 5:30 to 7:30 pm, there will be a hepatitis B educational seminar held at the Smilow Multipurpose Room at NYU Langone Medical Center (455 First Avenue, First Floor). The seminar will be led by Dr. Vinh Pham, an infectious disease specialist at Bellevue Hospital, and will focus on Hep B testing, disease progression, and medical management. The event is geared toward healthcare professionals and students, but is open to the public.
On Thursday, from 7 to 9 p.m., there will be a screening of the documentary, “Another Life,” which reveals the impact of hepatitis B through the stories of eight families in the US and China. The screening will take place at the CUNY Asian American Research Institute (25 West 43rd Street, 18th Floor) and will be followed by a panel discussion.
Lastly, on Friday, there will be a sit-in at Washington Square Park to build Hep B awareness. This event is open to the public and is aimed at bringing together those who want to share their stories and raise awareness about the Hep B epidemic. The sit-in will take place at 12:00 to 1:00 p.m.