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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

UMB a Pivotal Site for National Hepatitis B Research


Many UMB students and staff walking in and out of the Campus Center food court last week noticed an assortment of desks set up in the mezzanine. What stood out was the large text of the banner for this event which read, “Data is Power.”

This setup was for an event bringing attention to a nationwide study of the health-risk that Hepatitis B poses to the Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community of the Boston area.

The affair was a three-day event funded by the Healey Grant and organized by Drs. Haeok Leeand Ling Shi, of College of Nursing & Health Sciences; Dr. Peter Kiang, of the Asian American Studies; Dr. Paul Watanabe, of the Institute for Asian American Studies; and Ms. Patricia Halon, of University Health Services among others.

This project is in response to the newly created Strategic Planning Task Force’s “student-centered, urban public research university of the 21st century” and works with Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI) students at UMB to increase awareness.

According to the Asian Liver Center at Stanford University, a key sponsor and organizer of this event, the Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is the “most common infection of the liver and can lead to premature death from liver cancer or liver failure.”

Ten years ago, Dr. Lee and her colleagues discovered that the HBV was unusually prevalent among AAPI populations in the US and around the world. Approximately one out of ten members of the AAPI community has HBV.

This is why Dr. Lee pushed so hard to hold this event at UMB.

“There is a significant AAPI population among the students on campus. But many Asian-Americans don’t know that they have the HBV, because they think that it’s a genetic problem that they can’t do anything about it. We hosted this event to gather important data on the AAPI community at UMB and to break the silence about HBV.”

At present, 0.2 to 0.5% (600,000 to 1.5 million) of the U.S. population has chronic hepatitis B. About half of these people are Asian-American. One quarter of the infected Asian-Americans suffer from chronic Hepatitis B, a specific strain of HBV.

During an interview with the Mass Media, Dr. Lee noted that, “The AAPI community, in general, doesn’t know about this problem and aren’t well informed about the facts regarding how this virus is transmitted and how it can be treated.”

The virus is an “invisible” to most tests that people regularly undergo when they visitheir doctors. Hence, most people in the US and abroad don’t know they have the virus.

HBV is commonly transferred in on of three ways. An infected mother can transmit the virus to her child at birth. HBV can also be spread through wound-to-wound contact, the sharing of razors or toothbrushes, and reusing needles or syringes. The virus is not spread by sharing food and water, sharing utensils, coughing, hugging or kissing or breast feeding. The third and final way to communicate HBV is through sexual transmission.

The objective of the research project conducted by Dr. Lee is to gather data on the impact HBV on the AAPI community at UMB. From this data, researchers, doctors and students can have a better understanding of HBV allowing for better containment and treatment.

The research project at UMB has been a great success, according to Dr. Lee, as there were around 300 participants who sat down and helped to provide data to the facilitators.

Many of the AAPI students who participated in the research project expressed concern about the virus and how it affects their community.

Their concern stems from the knowledge that when the HBV symptoms arise – similar to those which occur in Jaundice and influenza– it’s too late for treatment.

“The good news is that it can be treated if it’s caught in time,” said Dr. Lee, “The first step is to get tested for the Hepatitis B surface antigen or antibody and then get vaccinated three times so that you’ll be protected for life.”

The HBV vaccine, according to the World Health Organization, is “the first anti-cancer vaccine” in the history of modern medicine.

The responses by public health officials in Boston and across the US have been “very significant and very hot issue,” according to Professor Watanabe, one of the major organizers of this research event.

“The HBV problem has already been a significant issue in the US for a while. But gathering data from the AAPI community, as we have done at UMB with great success, will fill in an important knowledge gap about this health problem. The data will be put to good use in crafting a more effective public health policy for countering HBV.”

The final and most effective step in combating HBV, according to Dr. Lee, is to get involved in combating this virus among the AAPI community by educating family and friends who may be at risk of having chronic Hepatitis B. 

About the Contributor
Dillon Zhou served as opinions editor for The Mass Media the following years: 2010-2011