Hep B Blog

Category Archives: Living with Hepatitis B

Read about the Hep B Foundation’s Newly Launched Learn the Link Campaign with Dung Hua of the Vital Access Care Foundation

This month, we spoke with Dung Hua of the Vital Access Care Foundation, formerly known as the Vietnamese American Cancer Foundation. Dung and her team continuously work to address the needs of the Vietnamese community in Orange County, California and the surrounding areas. Dung spoke to us about her experiences addressing hepatitis B and liver cancer in this community, as well as her contribution to the Learn the Link campaign, which officially launches in February 2024. Dung shared the challenges she faces, her rewarding experiences and the many ways she works to connect with and educate her community. 

The Learn the Link campaign was created to raise awareness about the link between chronic hepatitis B infection and liver cancer in a culturally appropriate way for communities that are most impacted. It was informed by speaking directly with community members and created with their needs centered and prioritized. The Hepatitis B Foundation held focus groups and assembled an advisory committee to learn about the needs and concerns of the communities for which the educational materials were being created to ensure that the materials were informative and sensitive to the traditions and norms of different cultures.  

Can you introduce yourself and your organization

My name is Dung and I work for the Vital Access Care Foundation. We recently underwent a name change because we expanded our services to not only focus on cancer, though The Cancer Continuum of Care, and our liver cancer and hepatitis B programs are the primary focus. We started in 1998 and provided general cancer assistance services, which later developed into a breast cancer focus. In 2003, we started the liver and hepatitis B programs. One of our founders is an oncologist and the other is a gastroenterologist who provides consultation and guidance for our hepatitis B and liver cancer programs. 

Can you tell me about your organization’s programs that address hepatitis B and liver cancer directly? 

Our hepatitis B and liver cancer programs focus on the Vietnamese community. We provide outreach, education, patient navigation and screening. We start with education because many people in this population are not aware of hepatitis B. We host community screenings and bring screenings into the community at churches and cultural events. People are more willing to get screened when we bring screenings to these events. If someone tests positive for hepatitis B, we provide patient navigation and linkage to care. If someone needs to be vaccinated, we provide guidance to link people to the vaccine. If a case is more complicated, we consult with a board member who can provide a professional consultation at no cost. During the pandemic, we tried to tie hepatitis B to COVID-19 and encourage people to get the COVID-19 vaccine and a hepatitis B screen at the same time. We leveraged our hepatitis B vaccine experience and surprisingly, a lot of people were willing to “get poked” twice in one day. 

Can you tell me about the community that your organization serves? 

We focus on the Vietnamese American community in Orange County. This community consists of  immigrants and refugees. In this community, there is still a lot of stigma around hepatitis B. Many people still believe that you can get hepatitis B from sharing a meal with people who are positive. In the Vietnamese community, there’s a saying: “If you sweep the floor, then you find garbage,” which is an idiom for avoiding the doctor; if you don’t go to the doctor, then you won’t know you’re sick. Culturally, you only share what is good. There’s a stigma with seeking help. You’re not supposed to share that you’re weak or struggle, which can lead people to internalize their pain. 

In addition to stigma, many people deal with undiagnosed mental health issues and the challenges of moving to a new country. This community also has lower rates of insurance coverage, which can make receiving routine medical care difficult. The Asian community also deals with the model minority misconception, which can be harmful because many people stereotype Asian people as well educated with a stable income, which isn’t always true.  

Many of the people we serve either speak limited English or no English at all. When people come to the United States (US), they need to immediately find a job and are often classified as low skilled workers. It’s hard for recent immigrants and refugees to have upward mobility. However, many people are motivated by creating better opportunities for their family and children.  

What are some challenges you face in addressing your community’s health concerns? 

The biggest challenges are stigma around disease and having culturally and linguistically appropriate materials. Languages are complicated. Different waves of immigration affect the way that you can communicate with people because languages change over time, which means finding a balance between older and newer languages and dialects is important. It continues to be a learning process for me, as I am exposed more and more to people in my community. It’s important and difficult to be responsive to stigma and all language and cultural barriers, but it is also the most rewarding part of the work.  

Why do you think that hepatitis B and liver cancer educational materials are so important for your community? 

They’re important because knowledge is power. The key to improving is understanding and knowledge, which comes from education. People won’t know what’s best for them if they don’t know the information, which needs to be reinforced through repetition. If people do things and they don’t understand why they are doing them, the behavior won’t last. But if they do understand, they can continue those behaviors and help to spread that information to others. 

What was your experience facilitating the focus groups and serving on the advisory committee that informed the Learn the Link campaign? 

I was there to support and provide observation of the focus group. What I remember is that the community members were very engaged. They have personal experience with hepatitis, which empowered them to engage more. It was a safe space for them to provide feedback. It was empowering for them to be a part of the process and to realize that they are being listened to. The effort of this project to create culturally appropriate materials and seek out feedback from this community allowed people to feel like they made a meaningful contribution to something important. 

While serving on the advisory committee, I remember a number of us were brought together from many different communities and we provided our thoughts and feedback on the project. I enjoyed the opportunity to hear the needs, concerns, and feedback from communities that we don’t typically work with. I found out that many things are similar among diverse communities and it was helpful for me to have the opportunity to learn more about other communities. Seeing everyone at the table providing their perspectives and hearing about the commonalities and the uniqueness was a very interesting experience. 

Why is it important that organizations speak directly with community members when creating campaigns like “Learn the Link”? 

It’s important for any campaign or activity to focus on the community. To be responsive to the community, we must listen to them. We don’t want to create something that we think is the best but doesn’t work for the people that it’s supposed to work for. That direct connection and relationship that allows community members to feel comfortable sharing direct feedback is the key to successful outreach and education.  

What is the most effective way for organizations to engage with your community? 

The most effective way to engage with the community is meeting them where they are. Being willing to go out of the way and find community members, and being open to understanding their needs and concerns is important. We can’t just work 9-5, we have to go out and find them in the community outside of regular working hours. We try to meet community members at flexible hours, host community meetings on the weekends, meet them at the temple or meet them at the park. We try to listen, understand and build rapport.  

Understanding the cultural and generation differences is important as well. For the Vietnamese population specifically, word-of-mouth is powerful. Information spreads in the community through word-of-mouth and can spread like wildfire.  

Connecting with community leaders and other people and organizations who work with the community directly is another way to connect with people. This stems from the immigrant and refugee background; people who lived through the war have a hard time trusting public entities but have trust in the people that they’ve built a rapport with. 

Do you have any final thoughts or comments about the “Learn the Link” campaign and its potential to improve the health practices of the people in your community? Are there any further materials you hope to see in the future? 

I checked out the materials when they were launched and pulled materials to show to a new employee, and I noticed that all materials were in English. When all the translations are available, it will be great to share with not only the community, but with people who work with the community as well. Hepatitis B may not be people’s priority, but with promotion, these materials can remind people that this silent killer is still around and there are resources available.  

What was your experience in helping to review and edit one of the final peer-reviewed manuscripts that will be submitted for publication from this project? 

There were a lot of words to read! Attending the advisory meetings, attending the focus groups, and reading the manuscript was spread out over a long period of time. But it was great to read the summary of all of the work that has been done. It was a nice refresher and I enjoyed reading quotes that resonated with me personally. Other communities have a lot of things in common with the Vietnamese community. It’s very exciting to collaborate together, since we are all doing this work.  

Podcast Recaps: A Global Perspective on Stigma and Discrimination Against Hepatitis B

B Heppy Recap: A Global Perspective on Stigma and Discrimination Against Hepatitis B 

Catherine Freeland is the Associate Director of Public Health Research at the Hepatitis B Foundation. As a researcher and founder of the Foundation’s Hepatitis B Discrimination Working group, Dr. Freeland shares more about the impact of discrimination and stigma as it pertains to people living with hepatitis B.  

What is the difference between stigma and discrimination? 

  • It’s important to understand stigma and discrimination are different. Stigma is a social process that is characterized by being excluded, rejected, and devalued because of the social judgement associated with a certain condition. Although the literature on the topic is limited, it has been shown that stigma related to hepatitis B has negatively impacted the quality of life for those living with hepatitis B around the globe. Discrimination is different in that it is characterized by the laws and behaviors that limit opportunities for growth. For example, denying access to education or work because someone is living with hepatitis B is a form of discrimination. Discrimination is often a result of stigma.  

What are the causes for stigma and discrimination as it pertains to hepatitis B? 

  • Lack of knowledge and understanding about hepatitis B in the community is a root cause of stigma and discrimination. Most people are unaware of what hepatitis B is and how it can be transmitted. This often results in rumors, myths and misconceptions spreading in the community and unfortunately can alienate people living with hepatitis B.  

How does stigma and discrimination against hepatitis B affect the lived experiences of people in the community? 

  • When myths and misconceptions spread about hepatitis B in the community, people with lived experience often face discrimination. A lot of people are required to undergo health screenings prior to starting employment.  If they test positive for hepatitis B, they can be denied employment and/or can be fired from their jobs in many parts of the world. It can then be difficult to find another job and support their families. For people who wish to get employment visas to work abroad, they are required to undergo health screenings. In the Philippines and the Gulf Coast (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates countries), it is common practice to deny employment visas to people living with hepatitis B. In some countries and cultures, pre-marital screening. We have also heard cases of individuals living with hepatitis B experience more challenges in custody of their children in divorce or separation cases.  

How can we address these challenges and what is the Foundation doing to support people experiencing discrimination? 

  • It is important for people with lived experience to speak up and share their experiences of stigma and discrimination. At the Hepatitis B Foundation, we have a discrimination registry where people can fill out survey responses pertaining to any discrimination, they are facing in their home countries. The survey is free and open access. We also have a working group of experts consisting of people with lived experience and community leaders and partners. By raising awareness about discrimination, we are working towards changes in policy across the globe to reduce stigma, improve lives, and give people living with hepatitis B a voice that matters. Ultimately everyone has a role to play in addressing discrimination and it starts with education and sharing accurate information on hepatitis B and advocating against this discrimination and stigma.  

 

Listen to the full episode here! 

Hep Matters Vignettes: Waiting for a Cure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hep Matters: Brief vignettes focused on promoting awareness of hepatitis B and liver cancer through fictional narratives inspired by real events and experiences

 

 

The Scenario 

 

 

 

 

Amina was born and raised in Kandahar, Afghanistan. At the age of 17, she moved to the United States with her family. During a routine check-up with her primary care doctor, Amina discovered that she had hepatitis B. She had never heard of the disease and explained that she always takes care of herself. The doctor told her that hepatitis B is a virus that damages the liver, and anyone can get it unless they are vaccinated to protect against it. Amina recalled that she never received any vaccinations for hepatitis B. Her family members were also unaware of how hepatitis B gets transmitted. 

 

 

Amina asked her doctor how she could get rid of this virus. Her doctor explained to her that there is no cure for hepatitis B, but antiviral treatment options do exist. While she may not be able to completely get rid of the virus, she can help protect herself from serious conditions such as hep B related cirrhosis or liver cancer with treatment. Amina’s doctor encouraged her to get treatment to prevent any serious problems from occurring. He also mentioned that treatment for hepatitis B is safe and effective. This did not make any sense to Amina. She thought to herself that if a treatment wouldn’t cure her of the disease, then there is no point in taking it. She felt healthy and did not show any symptoms. After the doctor suggested treatment options, she said that she will wait for the cure.

 

 

After moving to the U.S., Amina had gotten busy with school and work and did not follow up with her primary care doctor for years. Amina experienced stomach pains from time to time but they often went away on their own. On one occasion, her stomach pain worsened. She had to take a few days off from work to get better using home remedies, but they didn’t help. Finally, she went to the doctor’s office to learn more. She discovered that she had liver cancer. Her doctor referred her to a hepatologist (a liver specialist) for further treatment.  

 

 

 

The hepatologist explained to Amina that hepatitis B can lead to liver cancer without monitoring and treatment. Even though a cure is not available, treatment options do exist, and they help in slowing and preventing serious liver disease, liver damage or liver cancer. If Amina had started antiviral treatment on time, she could have saved her liver. The doctor recommended chemotherapy for Amina to treat the cancer. Not only did her medical bills go up but Amina felt physically and mentally exhausted by the procedures. She advocates for everyone living with hepatitis B to get treatment if they need it and not wait for the cure. She also participates in advocacy efforts to make treatment options more affordable for people living with hepatitis B. 

 

 

The Challenge: 

Lack of awareness: 

Amina and her family had little knowledge about hepatitis B before her diagnosis.  They were not vaccinated, which put them at an increased risk of getting hepatitis B. Even after her diagnosis, Amina did not take the time to fully understand her diagnosis, what lifestyle she needs to follow, or available treatment options. Not knowing enough about one’s hepatitis B diagnosis can put people at risk for more serious problems in the future such as liver cancer.  

Barriers to treatment 

After her doctor went over the treatment options, Amina decided to wait for a cure. While it is not clear if financial reasons played a role in her decision to not get treatment, the cost of treatment is certainly an important factor when considering treatment options for many people. Not having insurance coverage, high out-of-pocket costs, and side effects from medication can be barriers to getting treatment for hepatitis B.  

Difference between the cure and the current treatment for hepatitis B 

Instead of getting treatment, Amina decided to wait until a cure is available for hepatitis B. It is very important to understand the difference between treatment for hepatitis B and a potential cure. While scientists are working on finding an effective cure, it is not yet available. The process of getting a new medication approved for use is very long and consists of many procedures and steps, to ensure safety and effectiveness. The available treatment for hepatitis B is very effective in preventing serious liver problems such as cancer as it can control the long-term effects of the virus on the liver. There are many different treatment options available to reduce the symptoms, help people feel better, and prevent progression of hepatitis B to advanced liver disease such as liver cancer.  

 

What Can You Do? 

Don’t wait! 

After receiving your diagnosis, the most important step is to not wait and to get connected with care immediately. Schedule an appointment with your doctor and discuss your results. Take the time to understand your diagnosis and ask important questions. Discuss treatment options. Sometimes, treatment is not needed but other times, it’s important to start treatment right away. Encourage your friends and family to get screened and vaccinated for hepatitis B.  

Find Resources! 

The Hepatitis B Foundation has excellent resources on all things related to hepatitis B knowledge, prevention, and treatment. Check out some of our resources below:  

Information about hepatitis B:  

  • https://www.hepb.org/resources-and-support/fact-sheets/ 

Community support:  

  • https://www.hepbcommunity.org/  

Medication assistance programs 

  • https://www.hepb.org/treatment-and-management/patient-assistance-programs-in-the-u-s/ 

Resources for those newly diagnosed  

  • https://www.hepb.org/prevention-and-diagnosis/newly-diagnosed/ 

Hepatitis B research institute 

  • https://www.blumberginstitute.org/ 

Understanding the Impact of Drinking Alcohol on Liver Health

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April is Alcohol Awareness Month!  

Hepatitis B is a virus that can damage the liver. The liver is a critical organ in the human body and is responsible for energizing cells, removing toxins and waste, and strengthening the immune system. It is most commonly understood as the body’s primary filtering system and storage unit. Alcohol consumption has been shown to cause serious problems for the liver as it overwhelms the liver’s ability to carry out important tasks. 

Important Functions of the Liver: 

Bile Production: Bile is a greenish liquid released from the liver and into the gallbladder (a small sac located under the liver which stores bile) that helps to break down fats so they can be used by the body. The liver produces and cleans bile so that it can move through the small intestine. Bile also helps to remove some toxins and waste products such as excess cholesterol (a type of fat necessary for digestion and healthy cells) and bilirubin (a yellow substance made from old red blood cells) to keep your immune system healthy and clean. Even though cholesterol is an important substance, excess amounts of cholesterol can clog the bloodstream and cause serious problems like heart disease. This is why the liver removes unwanted cholesterol from the body. Similarly, bilirubin is made during the production of bile and is a waste product of old and broken-down red blood cells. A healthy liver can filter out and remove bilirubin from the body. High amounts of bilirubin may indicate damage to the liver or serious liver disease. 

Natural Detoxification: The liver is most notably known for its natural detox system, which is one of its most important functions. The liver removes toxins, foreign substances, and harmful waste from the bloodstream such as alcohol, drugs, and other chemicals through different ways. Depending on the substance, it may remove the toxin through bile, break it down into safer substances so the toxins don’t cause harm. The liver can even store the toxins, so the rest of the body is safe. It is important to understand that, even though the liver has a remarkable filtering system, it has limits and should not be put under excess stress.  

Blood Glucose Regulation: Glucose is a sugar molecule and the most important source of energy for your body. Glucose enters the body through foods high in carbohydrates, such as grains, potatoes and fruits. During the digestive process, glucose molecules from foods are broken down and used by the body to energize cells and maintain the most basic yet critical functions of the immune system. Glucose turns into blood glucose or blood sugar when it travels through the bloodstream. For glucose to be used as energy by the cells, it needs assistance from insulin (a hormone released by the pancreas), which helps it move around and get to the cells. Think of insulin as the key and glucose as the lock. The key opens the lock to the door. Similarly, insulin opens the door so that glucose can get inside the cells and provide energy. High levels of blood glucose and the inability to produce or use insulin properly can result in diabetes. Even though glucose comes from food, the human body can use the liver to produce its own glucose. The liver is basically the storage unit for glucose, saving it for use at a later time in the form of glycogen. Glycogen or stored glucose is released on an “as needed basis.” When the body is running low on glucose, the liver uses fats to provide energy and saves the remainder of the glucose for the most important organs that need sugar for energy, such as the brain and kidneys.  

Alcohol Consumption and the Liver: 

Alcohol is a toxic substance and is known to cause a powerful effect on the brain’s ability to understand and process information because the brain is a very sensitive organ. This is why alcohol can be so addictive for some people. It causes chemical effects (excess release of dopamine, a hormone that makes you feel good) in the brain, which can lead to addiction. Increased intake of alcohol is also linked to several health issues such as cancer, heart disease, digestive problems and liver disease. Alcohol use is also associated with injuries such as fatal car crashes and alcohol overdose.  

Since the liver is the body’s natural detox system, alcohol consumption disrupts the liver from carrying out its most important tasks. For example, the liver’s role is to remove alcohol from the blood. Breaking down ethanol (found in alcohol) causes some liver cells to die. The liver is able to make new cells but too much alcohol or long-term use can reduce the ability to make repairs. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women to be excessive alcohol use. Drinking too much inflames the liver and disrupts its filtering system. Damaged and weakened liver cells are unable to remove the toxins from alcohol from the blood. When liver cells are destroyed, they are unable to carry out the other important tasks such as producing bile, making proteins and storing glucose.  

The most common type of alcohol related disease is fatty liver. This is when excess amounts of fat are found in the liver. This causes the liver to swell, and overtime may cause inflammation or cirrhosis (scarring of the liver). Any damage to the liver cells, whether it’s through swelling, inflammation, or scarring, disrupts the liver’s ability to carry out its most essential functions. Cirrhosis or scarring of the liver is the most dangerous thing that can happen to the liver. It means that healthy liver tissue and cells are now being replaced by scar tissue from liver damage. The symptoms of liver damage from alcohol use may consist of fever, vomiting, nausea, jaundice, abdominal pain, fatigue and loss of appetite. This process is not sudden and usually takes a long time to happen. However, symptoms and signs may not always be present.  

What People Living with Hepatitis B Should Know About Drinking Alcohol? 

People living with hepatitis B should know that the liver is already weakened by the virus. The hepatitis B virus attacks the healthy liver cells and tissue and causes inflammation. Alcohol use can result in more problems and can put greater stress on the liver. It can speed up the harm to the liver, resulting in serious liver disease. It can lower the body’s ability to defend itself from foreign invaders, such as other viruses and bacteria. Studies have shown that alcohol intake can result in rapid HBV replication, further increasing the risk of cirrhosis and liver disease.  

Love your Liver! 

In a recently published statement by the World Health Organization, it was found that “no amount of alcohol is safe when it comes to health.” It is important to understand that alcohol, whether little or much, is a toxin and puts the liver at the highest risk as the liver is the natural detox for unwanted and harmful substances. The liver does a lot to keep our bodies protected from harm and acts as a natural defense. But, like people, the liver can also experience burnout. It is very important to keep our liver healthy, safe, and away from harm! 

References: 

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/alcoholinduced-liver-disease 

https://www.verywellhealth.com/definition-of-bile-1759867 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470209/ 

https://dtc.ucsf.edu/types-of-diabetes/type1/understanding-type-1-diabetes/how-the-body-processes-sugar/the-liver-blood-sugar/#:~:text=When%20you’re%20not%20eating%20%E2%80%93%20especially%20overnight%20or%20between%20meals,in%20a%20process%20called%20glycogenolysis. 

https://columbiasurgery.org/liver/liver-and-its-functions#:~:text=The%20liver%20filters%20all%20of,fats%20and%20carry%20away%20waste. 

http://hepctrust.org.uk/information/liver/detoxification 

https://www.who.int/europe/news/item/04-01-2023-no-level-of-alcohol-consumption-is-safe-for-our-health#:~:text=The%20risks%20and%20harms%20associated,that%20does%20not%20affect%20health. 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7081008/#:~:text=Hepatitis%20B%20virus%20(HBV)%20and,allows%20HBV%20to%20persist%20chronically. 

https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/effects-of-alcohol-on-your-health-and-liver 

The Purpose and Process of Storytelling

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you live in the U.S. and want to learn how to share YOUR hepatitis B story in a powerful and effective way to help raise awareness, educate communities, and inspire action around hepatitis B, consider applying to our next #justB digital storytelling workshop 

The #justB campaign empowers people with lived experience to share their story and use their voice to help increase awareness and advocacy around hepatitis B, combat stigma and discrimination, and encourage more people to get tested, vaccinated, and/or linked to care and treatment. Beginning in 2017, the Hepatitis B Foundation has partnered with StoryCenter to host six #justB digital storytelling workshops for over 41 participants from across 22 states in the U.S. and Canada. The #justB campaign includes stories that have been translated and published in 13 languages in addition to English – Mandarin, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Korean, Arabic, French, Mandingo, Twi, Yoruba, Tagalog, Khmer, Mongolian, and Chuukese.  

Attending a #justB digital storytelling workshop is a unique and uplifting experience that brings together people directly affected by hepatitis B in a supportive, small group environment (no more than 10 participants), where they can feel free to share openly about their experiences while learning to create short videos or “digital stories” in their own words. During the workshops, participants are guided through a “Story Circle” activity, receive feedback on selecting specific parts of their story to develop their script around, record a voiceover, gather photos and video clips, and combine these materials into short videos around 3-4 minutes long. After the workshops, participants become part of a growing community of more than 40 other storytellers who receive ongoing communications, resources, and opportunities to stay connected and engaged in hepatitis B advocacy and education.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The storytellers gather around for a storytelling workshop.

 

Over the years since the initial launch of #justB, we have seen just how powerful storytelling is, and how personal stories can be used to promote greater awareness, openness, and discussion around an often stigmatized disease like hepatitis B. We have also learned that the process of storytelling – and participation in storytelling workshops – has a positive and lasting impact on storytellers themselves.  

For example, the following quotes (collected from storyteller interviews and audience surveys) highlight the impact that the #justB campaign has had on participants and viewers. 

Quotes from storytellers about their experience: 

  • “In the weeks after the workshop, I felt a lot more hopeful and supported.”  
  • “It was an awesome, life-changing experience and I look forward to doing more work with the Hepatitis B Foundation and various other organizations to raise Hepatitis B awareness and prevention.” 
  • “This storytelling workshop was a true blessing for me personally. Before, I felt isolated and disconnected. After the workshop and getting to know how Hep B has affected others, I feel a great sense of family and inclusion. My true hope is that our stories can change how others not affected view those who are and that more emphasis would be placed on the treatment and cure for this condition.” 
  • “I remember feeling very lonely when I first got diagnosed. I was, I don’t know, a leper or something but then to hear other people having gone through that same fear and that same sort of feeling of isolation, just super impactful. It made you recognize that this doesn’t have to be a lonely or solitary thing. There are other people who have the same struggles and experience the same fear, I guess, that you did. That was incredibly powerful, and definitely something that I didn’t know I was missing that.” 
  • “The workshop definitely changed my perspective on the power of storytelling for mental health.”  

Quotes from story viewers / audience members:  

  • “I really enjoyed the personal stories. Hearing first person experiences re: HBV has such a significant impact and realism that is not accessible when approaching the topic from a clinical or third person perspective. It’s very sad but powerful to hear the experiences re: stigma, isolation, perseverance, and how they are fighting for their families, friends, and others.” 
  • “It was very informative. I came in not understanding what it really was. Now I understand how important vaccinations are. It is an important topic to discuss, and I want to let my friends and family know how serious the problem is.” 
  • “The stories were extremely powerful. That paired with data and key messages [was] a very effective presentation.” 
  • “JustB storytelling was very moving! The diversity in storytellers was great.” 
  • “Very touching, impactful and inspirational! Thank you to all the storytellers for your bravery!”  
  • “The storytelling was wonderful. I will definitely be using the stories in our education and awareness outreach.”  

 

 

 

 

 

A postcard featuring quotes from the Dai’s Story.

 

Learn more about our current storytellers at www.hepb.org/justb. To apply for the workshop, fill out this form: https://storycenter.wufoo.com/forms/zyu5qsb02lscca. We accept and review applications on a rolling basis until all spots are filled.  

The next #justB workshop will take place this summer 2023 (tentatively in late July or August) and will be held in either Washington, DC or in the Doylestown/Philadelphia area. All travel, accommodations, and meals will be coordinated and paid for by the Hepatitis B Foundation. Participants will also receive a honorarium for completing the workshop.  

The Hepatitis B Foundation recently launched a new website for our storytelling campaign. Visit https://www.hepbstories.org/ to learn more!

If you have any questions or feedback, please contact Rhea Racho, Program Director – Advocacy and Engagement at rhea.racho@hepb.org. 

If it’s not broken, don’t fix it! A hepatitis B vignette.

The Scenario

Yufei Zhao is 45 years old and lives with his family in Philadelphia,   Pa. Yufei discovered that he had hepatitis B when he attended a community health fair with his family. Even though he was instructed to talk about his diagnosis with a doctor and learn more about possible treatment options, Yufei decided to do nothing as he did not feel sick. While he has health insurance through his employer, he never utilizes any health care services. He often skips annual wellness visits as he says he “never gets sick.”  

A few weeks ago, Yufei’s family noticed that he has been skipping meals frequently saying he’s full or not hungry. At his daughter’s urging, he decided to go for a visit. After conducting some more tests, his doctor explained that the chronic infection with the hepatitis B virus had progressed substantially, and he had developed cirrhosis. After an MRI diagnosis, it was revealed that Yufei had liver cancer.

The Hepatologist (liver doctor) explained to Yufei that the liver is an important organ and acts as a cleaning system for the body. It removes toxic waste, purifies blood, and helps to digest food properly. When the virus entered the liver, it made many copies of itself and started attacking healthy liver cells. This led to inflammation and weakened the ability of the liver to carry out its most essential tasks. Because he was never monitored for hepatitis B, the virus allowed tumors to grow in the liver which caused the cancer. When the tumors grow in size or number, it eventually spreads to other parts of the body and disrupts other vital processes as well. 

The doctor mentioned that liver cancer is often called the silent disease because symptoms may not always be present. Even with a hepatitis B, a person could look or feel okay but that does not mean the virus isn’t active and causing damage. When the symptoms do show up, it might be too late to prevent liver cancer. After discussing his options with the doctor, Yufei learned that the best treatment for him was to get a liver transplant.  

He weighed the pros and cons of getting a transplant and consulted with his family. Now, Yufei is placed on a waiting list for a liver transplant to become available. In the meantime, his doctor has suggested other methods to destroy the smaller tumors without surgery through radiation (ablation). Yufei continues to spend more time with his family as he hopes to respond well to treatment until a new or partial liver is available.  

The Challenge

Cultural Perceptions on Health & Well-being 

  • Yufei is an older male in the household and the backbone of the family. For this reason, he considers it an obligation to prioritize his family over his personal health. It is important to understand these cultural and social beliefs prevalent in many different cultures and households. 
  • Family members should be advised to encourage their loved ones (especially older family members) to take charge of their health. It is important to check-in with your loved ones and assure them that sickness does not necessarily mean weakness. Taking care of one’s health can mean taking charge of one’s future.  

Hep B and Liver Cancer

  • Hepatitis B is a virus that causes inflammation of the liver. Without proper diagnosis and treatment, the virus can continue to multiply and damage healthy liver cells. This can lead to inflammation and scarring of the liver. This prevents the liver from doing its most important functions to maintain overall health which may result in the development of harmful tumors.  

Liver Cancer is a Silent Disease 

  • Many people with hepatitis B or liver cancer do not show symptoms of sickness but that does not mean the virus isn’t present or not actively working to harm the liver. Eventually, the physical symptoms will become noticeable as the virus/cancer advances to a more dangerous stage. 
What can you do?

Get tested! 

  • The most important thing you can do to prevent liver cancer is to get tested for hepatitis B. Most liver cancers develop from undiagnosed hepatitis B infections. There are a lot of people who have hepatitis B and do not know about it because they have never been tested. Even if you feel healthy and okay, it does not hurt to get tested!
  • If you don’t have hepatitis B, the test can tell you if you are vaccinated or if you need vaccination (which can provide lifelong protection from ever getting hepatitis B and help prevent liver cancer). 

Get screened! 

  • If you have hepatitis B, it is critical to manage the progression of the virus in your liver. For this reason, it is important to go through monitoring of your hepatitis B infection, liver health, and screen regularly for liver cancer.
  • Discuss with your doctor if you are at high-risk and how often you should get screened. It is recommended to get an ultrasound every 6 months to check how the virus is impacting the liver. AFP testing may also be done with regular monitoring of the liver to check for the possibility of liver cancer. 

Get educated! 

  • Stay up to date with the latest research and information on liver cancer! If you have hepatitis B, you should know that there is no cure for the virus but there is a lot of research that shows what you can do to ensure you live a healthy and long life.
  • Take an active role in learning about the disease and how it can affect your health over time. Learn about fibrosis, cirrhosis, liver cancer staging, and available treatments for hep B infection.  

References
  1. https://www.hepb.org/research-and-programs/liver/screening-for-liver-cancer/ 
  2. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/liver-cancer/treating/by-stage.html#:~:text=Treatment%20options%20might%20include%20ablation,%2C%20and%2For%20radiation%20therapy. 
  3. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/liver-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/staging.html 
  4. https://www.hepb.org/research-and-programs/liver/risk-factors-for-liver-cancer/ 

Ignore it till it goes away! A hepatitis B vignette.

The Scenario:

Woman is sick on couch, her husband is giving her an ice pack

Aroha Kawai just started a new job as a medical interpreter for Pacific Islander patients diagnosed with COVID-19. As a critical source of communication for the providers and the patients, she is often called to work night and weekend shifts. Aroha had a difficult conversation with the family members of a critical COVID-19 patient on whether they should discontinue ventilation support for the ailing grandmother. During this time, Aroha’s family noticed changes in her behavior. She stopped eating regularly, lost weight and repeatedly cancelled plans to go out. Aroha dismissed her family’s concerns as physical manifestations of the emotional burnout from work.

People are at a free hepatitis B screening event in a park.

Recently she attended a health fair hosted by her department at work. She approached a viral hepatitis screening booth and decided to get tested for hepatitis B. The following week, she received her results in the mail. Her results indicated that she had tested positive for hepatitis B. She shared her diagnosis with her mother who informed her that her grandfather died from liver cancer.  

Inside a doctor's office. A doctor is showing information about the liver. A woman with hepatitis B sits with her husband.

Aroha then followed up with her primary care doctor She discovered that she had chronic hepatitis B. Even though the ultrasound did not show any evidence of cirrhosis, her doctor ordered an imaging test (U/S, CT, MRI) to screen for liver cancer. Unfortunately, Aroha was diagnosed with early-stage liver cancer 

Inside a hospital room. A man and child visit a woman with hepatitis B in a hospital bed.

Fortunately, the cancer had not spread and did not infect nearby blood vessels. Her doctor suggested a partial hepatectomy to remove the tumor safely as the rest of the liver was still healthy. Aroha decided to adhere to her doctor’s advice and successfully underwent the surgery. She has taken some time off from work to focus on recuperating from the surgery and spending time with loved ones.  

 

 


The Challenge:
  1. Dismissal of Symptoms:
    • Aroha initially ignored the physical symptoms of liver cancer. It is true that signs and symptoms may not necessarily be present.
    • However, it is crucial to take care of one’s health and never ignore warning signs. Fatigue, unintended weight loss, and loss of appetite are a few of the symptoms of liver cancer. 
  2. Cancer without Cirrhosis: 
    • It is possible to get liver cancer without cirrhosis. Therefore, it is always important to screen for liver cancer if you have chronic hepatitis B infection. 
  3. Importance of Screening
    • Liver cancer screening is a highly effective method to detect malignant tumors and prevent cancer for those living with hepatitis B.
    • Early intervention increases the survival rate significantly and stops the cancer from spreading to other vital organs. 

What can you do?
  1. Get Help!
    • If you experience pain or discomfort of any kind, it is important to reach out for help. Set up an appointment with your doctor and discuss your concerns.
    • There is a good chance you might be misunderstanding an important health issue for side effects of stress or emotional burnout. Do not ignore your symptoms or feelings.  
  2. Get Screened!
    • Hepatitis B is a leading cause of liver cancer, most of the time it is because someone did not know they were infected with hepatitis B or were not managing their hepatitis B infection.
    • Everyone should be tested for hepatitis B to know their status. Ask your doctor for a hepatitis B screening today.  
  3. Stay on track!
    • If you have hepatitis B, it is critical to manage the progression of the virus in your liver. For this reason, it is important to go through liver cancer surveillance regularly. Discuss with your doctor if you are at high-risk and how often you should get screened.
    • It is recommended to get an ultrasound with blood work every 6 months to check how the virus is impacting the liver.  This includes the alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) blood test to measure the levels of AFP in your blood as it may indicate the presence of cancer cells in your liver. This can also help detect any scarring or tumors. 

Don't ignore it until it goes away. Get help. Get screened for hepatitis B. Stay on track.


Resources and Acknowledgements:
  1. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/liver-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/signs-symptoms.html 
  2. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/liver-cancer/treating/by-stage.html 
  3. https://www.hepb.org/research-and-programs/liver/prevention-of-liver-cancer/ 

What’s the Difference?: Herbal Remedies and Supplements vs. Western Medicine

What’s the Difference?: Herbal Remedies and Supplements vs. Western Medicine

Around the world, people consider the use of herbal remedies or supplements as a natural treatment for hepatitis B and/or D infection. These natural remedies have historically been advertised to boost the immune system and improve liver health. Herbal remedies or supplements are described as products made from botanicals or plants used to treat diseases and maintain health. They can be produced in a variety of forms including liquid extracts, teas, tablets/capsules, bath salts, oils, and ointments4.

Why do people choose to use herbal remedies?

The use of these products over time has social-cultural influences related to the distrust of and unfamiliarity with western medicine for management of hepatitis B or D infection. While herbal remedies have been used widely across cultures and contexts, patterns of racism, medical mistreatment, and inadequate delivery of care in western medicine have influenced the present state of treatment practices. In response to these barriers to sensitive and effective health care delivery, many groups such as Hmong and African communities often rely on herbal remedies and supplements to treat medical conditions and ease suffering.

Silymarin, milk thistle, and Kampo medicine

The distrust of western medicine has contributed to more widespread use of supplements such as silymarin (milk thistle) and Kampo medicine, as alternatives to manage hepatitis B or D infection. Many people believe that Silymarin can improve liver health through its antioxidant and free radical-fighting properties. Traditional Kampo medicine has been used for over 2,000 years to treat a variety of diseases including hepatitis B. One herbal treatment that is frequently used is bupleurum which many people believe can protect the liver or heal liver damage. Despite possible liver health benefits, neither supplement is a treatment for hepatitis B or D and may sometimes cause further harm to the liver4. It is important to note that there is presently no cure for hepatitis B.

False claims and bad interactions

Additionally, several alternative medicine companies often make false claims and testimonials to convince people to purchase expensive alternative treatments with false promises that are not based on scientific evidence. Herbal remedies and supplements may also interact with certain medications prescribed for those with hepatitis B and D, so it is important to seek the advice of a health care professional before use of any of these products3,4.

Strides in western health care

The long-standing hesitancy to participate in western health care is well-reasoned and firmly rooted in past wrongdoing on the part of often fundamentally racist institutions. While the western health care system remains far from perfect, it is important to remember that many strides continue to be made to correct the misdeeds of the past, and conversations around health equity and the social determinants of health (including racism) are becoming more and more common. Meanwhile, research has found that beliefs and misconceptions around western medicine can delay care and increase morbidity rates of hepatitis B in high-risk communities2.

It is vital for those living with hepatitis B or D to stay informed with scientific knowledge about supplements and herbal treatments to ensure these products are effective and safe in their daily life. The coordination of hepatitis B and D care by providers must do better to support those impacted by the viruses, in a way that is culturally sensitive and not dismissive of the harm that has been inflicted on communities of color and immigrant communities, who are more likely to be affected by hepatitis B and D1.  Health care professionals and other service providers must continually work to improve their cultural humility. In addition, health care institutions practicing western medicine must work harder to ensure care is equitable and safe, and to center the voices, stories, and insights of community members in their work to repair the impacts of structural racism and medical mistreatment that have caused such deep distrust in western medical treatments.

To learn more about effective hepatitis B and D medications, check out our Drug Watch page!

Disclaimer: Herbal products are not U.S. FDA-approved, and the Hepatitis B Foundation cannot endorse the usage of such products that lack regulation and scientific evidence to deem them both effective and safe.

References

  1. El-Serag, H., McGlynn, K. A., Graham, G. N., So, S., Howell, C. D., Fang, T., … & Thiel, T. K. (2010). Achieving health equity to eliminate racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic disparities in HBV-and HCV-associated liver disease. The Journal of Family Practice, 59(4 Suppl), S37.
  2. Mukhtar, N. A., Evon, D. M., Yim, C., Lok, A. S., Lisha, N., Lisker-Melman, M., … & Khalili, M. (2021). Patient knowledge, beliefs and barriers to hepatitis B Care: results of a multicenter, multiethnic patient survey. Digestive diseases and sciences, 66(2), 434-441.
  3. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health website. Using dietary supplements wisely. (2019). Using dietary supplements wisely. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/using-dietary-supplements-wisely.
  4. US Food and Drug Administration. (2017). Information for consumers on using dietary supplements. https://www.fda.gov/food/dietary-supplements/information-consumers-using-dietary-supplements.

Can I Breastfeed While Living With Hepatitis B?

Every year, the first week of August celebrates World Breastfeeding week. World Breastfeeding week highlights the importance of breastfeeding and its benefits including nutrition, food security, child development, and the reduction of inequalities.  

Breastfeeding is a widespread practice found across cultures and borders. Considered to be the best food choice for babies, breast milk is full of essential nutrients to help babies fight off infections. It also lowers the risk of developing serious health problems like asthma, obesity, type 1 diabetes, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Breastfeeding also helps the mother bond with the child and supports the baby’s emotional health. Not only that, but mothers who breastfeed reduce their risk of developing high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, ovarian cancer, and breast cancer. It is encouraged for mothers to breastfeed their child exclusively for six months.  

However, it is important to consider that breastfeeding may not be the best option for everyone. There are many reasons why a woman may choose not to breastfeed her child including: health issues, lack of support, lack of time, short parental leave, and poor mental health. Formula can be a great, healthy, alternative to breastfeeding when breastfeeding is not possible.  

Globally, 300 million people are living with hepatitis B, and many do not know their status. Hepatitis B is a virus that infects the liver and damages healthy tissues and cells. This makes it more difficult for your liver to do its job of making sure your body is free of toxins and breaking down food so you can use it for energy. Globally, hepatitis B is most commonly transmitted from mother to child due to the blood exchange during childbirth, but may also spread through the following routes: 

  • Sharing needles or unclean objects like razors and toothbrushes 
  • Unsafe tattoo or piercing procedures 
  • Unprotected sex 

Learn more about transmission here!  

While some health issues can prevent women from breastfeeding their baby due to the fear of passing the disease or illness to their child, this is not the case with hepatitis B. Women living with hepatitis B can safely breastfeed their baby and are encouraged to breastfeed.  

Also, to prevent mother to child transmission of hepatitis B it is important to make sure the child receives the first dose of hepatitis B vaccine called the hepatitis B birth dose within the first 24 hours of birth. An extra step towards prevention can also be taken for mothers who have hepatitis B infection, which includes giving their baby the hepatitis B birth dose and hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG) within the first 24 hours of birth. HBIG is not always available in every country and might be difficult to get. If it is not possible to get HBIG, be sure your child gets the hepatitis B birth dose within the first 24 hours of delivery to prevent transmission. HBIG is a shot that helps to protect your baby from developing hepatitis B by teaching the body to fight off the infection. The vaccine or birth dose is safe, effective, and provides a lifetime of protection to babies, so they do not get hepatitis B in the future. The birth dose is given in 3 doses and follows the schedule below:  

  • 1st dose- given right after birth but within 24 hours 
  • 2nd dose- given in at one month of age 
  • 3rd dose- given when the baby is 6 months old 

The infant hepatitis B vaccine schedule can vary depending on where you live – you can see the schedules here. 

You can learn more about the hepatitis B vaccine here!  

It should be noted that until a baby completes their hepatitis B vaccination series, if the nipples are chapped, cracked, or bleeding, it is best to avoid breastfeeding until the nipples are completely healed. Because hepatitis B is transmitted by blood-to-blood contact, there is a small risk of transmission to unvaccinated babies if the nipples are bleeding. During this time, it can be beneficial to seek guidance from a lactation consultant and switch to a different feeding method (formula or donor human milk).  

It is safe to breastfeed if you are living with hepatitis B, you will not transmit hepatitis B to your infant. If you still feel nervous about breastfeeding your baby, formula is the best alternative to breast milk.  

References 

https://worldbreastfeedingweek.org/  

https://www.hepb.org/treatment-and-management/pregnancy-and-hbv/breastfeeding/  

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23383145/  

https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-special-circumstances/maternal-or-infant-illnesses/hepatitis.html#:~:text=Is%20it%20safe%20for%20a,within%2012%20hours%20of%20birth. 

Elevate Your Voice

Almost 300 million people worldwide live with chronic hepatitis B, but most of their stories remain untold. Often this is due to the negative stigma surrounding the virus, fear of discrimination, lack of community awareness or understanding of the disease and lack of support for those who wish to speak out publicly about hepatitis B.

No one knows hepatitis B better than the people living with the virus. Elevating the voice of people who live with hepatitis B is so important to bring awareness to hepatitis, help fight discrimination, and keeping up the momentum to find a cure for hepatitis B. Storytelling is an important to way to talk about an individual’s journeys with hepatitis B.

Since 2017, the Hepatitis B Foundation has partnered with StoryCenter to host six #justB digital storytelling workshops for over 40 participants from more than 20 U.S. states and Canadian provinces. The #justB campaign empowers people with lived experience to share their stories with the goals of increasing awareness and advocacy around hepatitis B, decreasing stigma and discrimination, and promoting testing, vaccination and linkage to care and treatment.

The latest #justB workshop was held in Berkeley, Calif., from March 18-20, 2022. It brought together five highly motivated adults living with hepatitis B who wanted to learn how to share their stories to educate communities and inspire action.

We will be highlighting these patient advocates and their stories over the next few months. Here are overviews of Adama and Chelle’s stories:

Adama, who was born in West Africa and immigrated to the U.S. decades ago, recalls when he tested positive for hepatitis B and how he soon realized that the illness his mother suffered from must have also been hepatitis B. “As I began to learn about the virus, I realized, ‘Oh, I think that’s what killed my mom.” Having lost his mother to the disease, Adama knows the importance of testing, early detection and monitoring for those who are living with hepatitis B. “I take treatment, I learned how to take care of myself… But what about the people around me, in my community, who won’t even get tested? Everyone talks about HIV, about how to protect ourselves, but this hepatitis virus is too much ignored.”

Chelle, a Utah resident, speaks candidly in her story about the stigma she encountered after being diagnosed with hepatitis B in the 1980s. “I felt so isolated. I couldn’t even talk to my family… Sometimes I thought about all the stomach problems I had complained of as a kid. I had been adopted from the Philippines in the 1970s. I was tested for this and that, but not for hepatitis B. Testing for the virus wasn’t widespread at that time. I was called a hypochondriac when the doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong.” Chelle is grateful that things have improved since then and that she was able to pursue a career in the medical field. But her experience still motivates her to continue speaking out and fighting against hepatitis B related stigma that persists around the world.

To watch the new #justB stories by Adama, ChelleWendyDHE and FK, and to access the complete #justB video library with more information, please visit: www.hepb.org/justb.

How to Elevate Your Voice

Are you interested in sharing your journey with hepatitis B? The Hepatitis B Foundation has the B the Voice Story Bank which provides an online platform for people living with hepatitis B, their families, community health workers and health care providers to share their firsthand knowledge and experiences with a global audience. You can submit your stories using an online form, along with any photos and personal details you wish to share. Submissions are confidential and can be made without disclosing a person’s full identity.

We encourage you to share stories about your diagnosis, living with hepatitis B, access to care and treatment, stigma and discrimination, education and advocacy, support and caregiving, services and programs and other related topics to not only help raise awareness for hepatitis B, eliminate stigma and discrimination, but to also inspire others to be brave in their diagnosis.

How Can Providers Elevate Individual’s Voices?

It is important for providers to also help elevate peoples’ who are living with hepatitis B voices. Healthcare institutions, organizations, and departments must develop relationships with people living with hepatitis B to establish trust and listen to what they want to see be done in the hepatitis B world. Their opinions are critical to develop effective programming around hepatitis B education, vaccination, testing, and eventually elimination.