Hepatitis B and Stigma
World Kindness Day is just around the corner on November 13th. On World Kindness Day, we celebrate kindness and spread it around the world. Let’s celebrate this day by treating people living with hepatitis B with kindness, compassion, and respect.
Unfortunately, hepatitis B is often highly stigmatized – and the people living with it can feel ostracized. Why is there so much stigma surrounding hepatitis B? A study found that among Asians, the majority thought hepatitis B was a genetic disease which is why the family might feel stigmatized if a family member is living with it.1 Due to cultural values, interdependence, collectivism, and family centeredness, persons of Asian descent might think that having hepatitis B is a reflection on the family.1 This attitude could lead to people not wanting to get tested for hepatitis B because they worry about bringing stigma to the family.1 Another study found that among African communities, individuals were confused about the differences between hepatitis B, HIV, malaria, and other infectious diseases.2 This misattribution and confusion could lead to a person living with hepatitis B being perceived as an outsider to society and can cause stigma or discrimination.2
The studies demonstrate that the lack of education and information surrounding hepatitis B contributes to the stigma that individuals living with hepatitis B face. There is a lot of ignorance, myths, and misconceptions about hepatitis B. Let’s debunk some of these notions!
Hepatitis B cannot be spread through casual contact, only through blood-to-blood contact or sexual transmission. This means you can hug, kiss, and share a meal with your friends and family without worrying about contracting hepatitis B. In Asian communities, it is especially important to emphasize that family members living with an individual who has hepatitis B, can share meals with each other. And there is a safe and effective vaccine to protect loved ones – so transmission can be prevented!
Sometimes people do not want to discuss their hepatitis B status because of its association with intravenous drug use. People who inject drugs experience more discrimination because of the stigma surrounding addiction. On the flip side, individuals who do not inject drugs but are living with hepatitis B, might not want to discuss their status for fear that other people will stigmatize or label them as drug users. Additionally, people might assume individuals living with hepatitis B engage in risky sexual behavior which can further stigmatize them. This stigmatization only harms people living with hepatitis B because they cannot talk about their status openly, which would help destigmatize the disease.
Even extending past World Kindness Day, we encourage you to be kind to people living with hepatitis B. And if you are living with hepatitis B, please be kind to yourself! Continue to educate yourselves on hepatitis B to help lessen the stigma and discrimination surrounding it.
Below is a brief list of resources for people living with hepatitis B or individuals living with people living with hepatitis B.
- Transmission of hepatitis B – how hepatitis B can be transmitted
- Online Support Groups
- Factsheet – When Someone in the Family has Hepatitis B
- Know Your Rights – for anyone experiencing discrimination because of their hepatitis B status
- Kim, M. J., Lee, H., Kiang, P., Watanabe, P., Torres, M. I., Halon, P., Shi, L., & Church, D. R. (2015). Debunking the myth: low knowledge levels of HBV infection among Asian American college students. Asia-Pacific journal of oncology nursing, 2(1), 8–16. https://doi.org/10.4103/2347-5625.152399
- Mokaya, J., McNaughton, A. L., Burbridge, L., Maponga, T., O’Hara, G., Andersson, M., Seeley, J., & Matthews, P. C. (2018). A blind spot? Confronting the stigma of hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection – A systematic review. Wellcome open research, 3, 29. https://doi.org/10.12688/wellcomeopenres.14273.2
Author: Evangeline Wang, Program Coordinator
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