Boston World Hepatitis Day: July 28

Boston community health event will take place with students from Harvard, MIT, Brown and Cambridge City Councilor Minka Van Beuzekom to address the high rate of hepatitis B and C infection among Boston’s Asian population.  The effort is aimed at increasing awareness and education in the Boston community, especially among those of Asian descent on Sunday, July 28th from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Chinatown Park  (Rose Kennedy Greenway).

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), roughly 350 million people worldwide have chronic hepatitis B and 170 million people have chronic hepatitis C. While this is far higher than the prevalence of HIV or any cancer, awareness is inexplicably low and the majority of those infected are unaware. That is why viral hepatitis reputed to be “silent epidemic” by HHS and countless other global health organizations.

In Boston, Asians represent less than 10% of the total population; however they account for more than 50% of new chronic hepatitis B cases.  Roughly 25% of patients with chronic hepatitis B, if untreated, develop serious ailments like liver cancer.  Locally, the mortality rate among Asians from liver cancer is nearly 3 times the city-wide average.

Rallying to make a difference, students from Harvard, MIT and Brown are gathering with community members to take part in a worldwide Guinness Book of World Records attempt to raise awareness about the prevalence of hepatitis and disease prevention. The Harvard and MIT chapters of the hepatitis B awareness group Team HBV, comprised of students primarily in Cambridge, are partnering with MAP for Health (Massachusetts Asian and Pacific Islanders for Health) and Quest Diagnostics to help prevent new infections and educate those at risk about the importance of screening and, in the case of hepatitis B and C, vaccination.

Participants will simultaneously perform “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” actions. These highly visual and universally recognized actions convey the proverbial principle in which three monkeys feign ignorance by covering their eyes, ears and mouth. The event is part of the World Hepatitis Alliance’s Guinness Book of World Record attempt to have the most people perform these symbolic actions in 24 hours at multiple global venues.

World Hepatitis Day and the work of Team HBV in Boston is especially important this year in light of new hepatitis C guidelines from the United States Preventive Services Task Force.  The influential health advisory group concluded in June that all Baby Boomers should be tested at least once for hepatitis C.  About three-quarters of the more than three million Americans with hepatitis C are Baby Boomers, most of them infected decades ago. But most do not know it because they have no symptoms.

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