The biggest myths about hepatitis B uncovered


hepatitis C: bright pink 3D liver in blue body

A large Australian study has found huge gaps in knowledge about hepatitis – which could lead to liver disease and cancer, Cancer Council Victoria says.

““Misunderstandings of transmission could have the potential to marginalise patients from Asian cultures where sharing food is an important cultural norm,” says co-author of the study Chris Enright, Manager of Priority Populations at Cancer Council Victoria.

The study found that:

  • 44% of people living with hepatitis B incorrectly believed the disease could be spread by kissing;
  • 56% were unaware that hepatitis B can be transmitted through unprotected sex;
  • 46% thought it could be transmitted by sharing utensils;
  • 70% thought hepatitis B could be cured by taking traditional Chinese medicine; and
  • Only 52% knew there were effective treatments available.

 

Left untreated, one in four people with chronic hepatitis B will die from serious liver disease and/or liver cancer. Approximately 220,000 Australians are living with chronic hepatitis B.

The study’s lead author Dr Behzad Hajari of LaTrobe University says that the research highlights the important role of GPs.

“Our study reinforces that health professionals, including GPs are the most trusted source of information for people with chronic hepatitis B,” says Dr Hajari.

“It’s important to give the patient detailed information about their disease not only when they are diagnosed, but the education and monitoring of the disease needs to continue in future GP consultations.”

To assist GPs, an online website was developed by the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory in partnership with Cancer Council Victoria called HepBHelp. The site helps the GP diagnose hepatitis B and know which patients are eligible for free vaccinations.

“GPs need to remember that two in five people living with hepatitis B have not been diagnosed,” says Enright.

“Yet our current system relies on the patient to know that they are to ask for a hepatitis B test. There’s a big issue here because most patients would assume their GP would initiate this conversation.”

The migrant populations from endemic hepatitis B areas of Africa, Asia and the South Pacific are most at-risk of chronic hepatitis B and related liver cancer.

“It’s ideal for the GP to spark this conversation with their patients if they know they are from one of the at-risk countries,” Enright says.

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