More awareness, earlier diagnosis of hepatitis urged

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 July, 2012, 12:00am


Hongkongers need to know more about hepatitis and be diagnosed quicker, the World Hepatitis Alliance said yesterday.

It urged the government to step up promotion of hepatitis awareness and establish a local strategy for earlier identification of virus carriers.

The appeal came ahead of World Hepatitis Day on Saturday.

An earlier survey showed half of the city's population had never been tested for hepatitis B virus, which can be transmitted by exchanges of body fluids, a local expert said.

The virus can predispose carriers to developing cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer. It is estimated about 8 per cent of the population is affected by chronic hepatitis B, giving it a 'high' rating for prevalence under international benchmarks.

'Everyone in the city should know whether or not they are infected,' said Professor George KK Lau, founding trustee of the Cheng Si Yuen (China-International) Hepatitis Research Foundation. About 20,000 people die from liver diseases each year in Hong Kong, mostly from viral hepatitis.

Lau said: 'These deaths are largely preventable as there are drugs to treat hepatitis. But by the time we see most people, they have been unaware of their sickness for so long there is nothing we can do to save them.'

Hepatitis B is the most serious type of viral hepatitis that is communicable to others, but only about 15 per cent of the infected are classified as high risk and requiring immediate treatment. Lau said a quick, cheap (HK$10) blood test could tell whether a person was infected.

World Hepatitis Alliance president Charles Gore said: 'Government and public health bodies need to do more to boost awareness and help more people to seek and access diagnosis and treatment.'

Since 1988, babies born in the city have been vaccinated against hepatitis B and will have lifelong immunity. Older people can obtain 20-year protection through vaccination.