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East Asian Immigrants Bring Hepatitis to New York

by Medindia Content Team on May 11, 2006 at 8:02 PM
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East Asian Immigrants Bring Hepatitis to New York

According to a recent study conducted by the researchers at New York University School of medicine it was found that one in seven East Asian immigrants are carriers of the hepatitis B virus. These predispose them to conditions such as liver cancer and cirrhosis. But it is surprising to know that most of the people are unaware that they were infected. Three-quarters of these people who are infected had no health insurance. The rate highest was found among immigrants from China. Hepatitis B is an endemic disease prevalent in many Asian countries.

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But recently there is an increase in the number of Asian immigrants in New York which has led to the disease emerging in to a serious health problem. Hepatitis B is transmitted only through blood. On the other hand Hepatitis A is caused by a virus that can be transmitted through food. Hepatitis B vaccine is given to nearly all children born in the United States and to many adults who are considered at risk. But in the immigrant population, especially Chinese there is no comprehensive national vaccination program Dr. Henry J. Pollack, the lead author of the study says that hepatitis B virus can be present in the body sans symptoms and can be detected only if it causes life-threatening diseases like cancer or cirrhosis. The study results are to be published in the journal, Morbidity and Mortality. According to the New York State cancer registry liver cancer rates among Asian-Americans are 6 to 10 times greater than that of the whites. It is estimated that about 350 million cases of Hepatitis B are prevalent worldwide. It is most common in China, but scientists are unable to reason out the increased occurrence of the disease.

Charles B Wang who is a physician in the Community Health Center in New York City said that a large number of people have been identified through the screening program. Early detection and suppression of the virus can interrupt the cycle of mother-to-child transmission and also prevent chronic infection. An array of new drugs to treat chronic infection are prescribed which is not successful in curing the disease but suppress the virus so that it causes little or no harm. The medication must be taken for life. The researchers found that immigrants from Fujian province had the highest rate of infection. Men were twice as likely as women to be infected. The researchers screened 1,836 Asian-born adults last year at 12 sites in heavily Asian neighborhoods in Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan. Over all, 24 % of the people screened were found to carry the virus.

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