Sun, Mar 10, 2002 - Page 2 News List

Report finds hepatitis B victims unaware of risks

PUBLIC HEALTH Most disease carriers are unaware they even have hepatitis B, and of those who know they are ill, few visit their doctor for regular checkups

By Sandy Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Two thirds of the 3 million hepatitis B carriers in Taiwan are unaware they are carrying the disease, according to a medical report released yesterday.

The report, prepared by Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁), dean of the College of Public Health at National Taiwan University, shows that among the remaining one third who are aware of their condition, less than 10 percent have regular follow-up check-ups.

"And for those hepatitis B carriers who are also smokers, their risks of developing liver cirrhosis are greater than for those who do not smoke," Chen said.

"So in other words, hepatitis carriers who smoke more than 20 cigarettes a day are 2.1 times more likely to suffer liver cirrhosis," he added.

Hepatitis B is spread when blood or bodily fluids from an infected person enters the body of another person who has not been immunized. Its symptoms include fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting and joint pain.

Aside from smoking, the report also showed that the chances of hepatitis carriers getting liver cirrhosis increase with age.

"For each year hepatitis B carriers age, they become 1.06 times more likely to get liver cirrhosis," Chen said.

Chen Ting-hsin (陳定信), dean of the College of Medicine at National Taiwan University, echoed his colleague's remarks.

"Usually approximately one fourth of these hepatitis B carriers see their illness turn from hepatitis B to liver cirrhosis or liver cancer as they age," he said.

Along with Korea, China, the Philippines and other southeast Asian countries, Chen said that Taiwan's rate of hepatitis B infection was 10 times greater than that of Australia, New Zealand and countries in North America and Europe.

"Consider the nearly 3 million hepatitis B carriers in Taiwan, a country with a total population of 23 million. Taiwan is considered as a place with a high number of hepatitis B carriers," Chen Ting-hsin said.

According to the Liver Disease Prevention and Treatment Research Foundation, while the majority of Taiwan's hepatitis B carriers contract the disease during birth from infected mothers, 83 percent of those who contract the disease in adulthood did so through sexual contact with infected persons.

Hepatitis B can be spread by having sex with an infected person without using a condom, by sharing needles and from an infected mother to her baby during birth.

Aside from sexual contact with hepatitis B infected persons, medical doctors said that acts such as body piercing in areas such as the nose, tongue and abdomen would also expose individuals to a high risk of being infected with hepatitis B.

"Keeping up with regular medical check-ups is the best way to prevent hepatitis B from becoming worse and turning into liver cirrhosis or liver cancer," Chen Ting-hsin said.

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