The viral infection is widespread across Asia and if left unchecked, it causes liver cancer, which is a leading cause of death in many Asian countries. New York City has the largest Asian population in the United States--about 800,000 people, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.
"Hepatitis B is probably responsible for 80 percent of hepatocellular cancers worldwide," says Dr. Pollack. When infection occurs in young children, an estimated 15 percent to 40 percent will develop chronic liver disease, including cirrhosis and liver cancer. "In newborns there is a 90 percent chance of developing chronic hepatitis B," he says.
Over the last 15 years, the transmission of hepatitis B from mothers to newborns in the United States has been drastically reduced with the help of neonatal screening and vaccination. In China, prophylaxis efforts have only just begun, due to a lack of resources across the country. China has 150 million people who are chronically infected with hepatitis B, says Dr. Pollack. In the 1990s there was a large influx of immigrants from China to the United States. So now the U.S. faces a somewhat under-recognized public health challenge, he says, because the disease has been considered controlled.
About one in five persons screened in the new study who were born in China were infected with chronic hepatitis B. In general, the infection rate among those tested closely mirrored rates reported in the study participants' native countries and regions, says Dr. Pollack. Once diagnosed, proper evaluation and care and, in many cases, specific antiviral treatment, is the key to avoiding long-term complications of the disease. Hepatitis B infection can be effectively prevented by vaccination. All persons susceptible
Contact: Jennifer Choi
New York University Medical Center and School of Medicine