NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 12, 2006

Among east Asian immigrants in New York City, one person in seven carries the hepatitis B virus, according to a new study led by researchers at New York University School of Medicine. The condition puts them at far greater risk than other Americans for deadly diseases like liver cancer and cirrhosis.

Most of the people tested had no idea that they were infected, a fact that frustrates doctors who know that with proper screening and treatment, the disease can be controlled, if not cured. But three-quarters of the people in the study had no health insurance, and even those who did had trouble getting coverage for screening.

According to the researchers:

  • Some 15 percent of east Asians in New York -- as many as 100,000 people -- are chronic hepatitis carriers, with the rate highest among immigrants from China. That infection rate is 35 times the rate found in the general population.
  • Because Hepatitis B is endemic in many Asian countries, growth in the number of Asian immigrants in New York and across the country has made the disease a broad, expensive, emerging health problem. In the 2000 census, there were 800,000 Asians in the city, with roughly half from China.

Since the development a generation ago of a vaccine that is given to nearly all children born in the United States and to many adults who are considered at risk, hepatitis B has become rare in this country.

While doctors have long worried about the disease in immigrant groups who come from countries like China -- which does not have a comprehensive national vaccination program -- little has been done to raise awareness of the danger.

Source: Richard Pérez-Peña And Marc Santora, "Hepatitis Risk For East Asians In New York," New York Times, May 11, 2006.

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