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Hepatitis B runs rampant in BC's large Asian community

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – Hepatitis B (HBV) is proving to be a huge medical problem for the large Asian community in the Vancouver area. BC already has an estimated 60,000 patients and many others are undetected.

Many are diagnosed very late in the disease – once they already have cirrhosis or liver cancer.

Dr. Eric Yoshida, Gastroenterologist at UBC, says many people come to Canada, not even knowing they are a carrier of HBV.

“Around the world it’s passed from mother to child. It is not because you scored drugs, it’s not because you had affairs sexually, or things like that. You got it because you were born. End of story. There should be no stigma about Hepatitis B.”

But he says there is. Trying to find someone among his patients with the disease to talk publicly about their experiences was nearly impossible.

HBV rates in Vancouver, Richmond and Surrey are approaching that of Asia and treatment is necessary to keep worse conditions at bay.

“We have these great anti-viral agents, which are only wonderful if people can actually take them. They cost a lot of money.”

“If I tell my patients they need to go on these expensive drugs, I’m not telling them they need to go on these expensive drugs because I like writing prescriptions, or I’m supporting the pharmaceutical industry. I’m telling them they need these drugs because if they don’t take these drugs, then I can’t guarantee that something bad may not happen in the next five to 10 years,” explains Dr. Yoshida.

Twenty-five per cent of people with HBV currently die from related diseases. Cirrhosis and liver cancer are huge strains on the BC healthcare system and could be avoided earlier on.

Doctors doing blood work need to order the test for HBV when looking for other problems in people in the Asian community.

Yoshida thinks things are better than they were 20 years ago, but they are still losing the battle against this deadly disease.

Yoshida and SUCCESS want more awareness and increased resources for early diagnosis, which is a simple blood test. He’s also pushing for coverage for treatment from the BC Government.