Title

Epidemic Proportions

  • After her husband’s funeral, Mrs. Wang stands with her children. At age 34, Mr. Wang died of liver cancer caused by hepatitis B—one of approximately 250,000 Chinese killed every year from hepatitis B-associated liver cancer and cirrhosis. Henan, China
    After her husband’s funeral, Mrs. Wang stands with her children. At age 34, Mr. Wang died of liver cancer caused by hepatitis B—one of approximately 250,000 Chinese killed every year from hepatitis B-associated liver cancer and cirrhosis. Henan, China
  • Xiao Shan gets her one year old son, Cha Li, ready for his final hepatitis B vaccination. While a safe and effective vaccine to prevent hepatitis B has existed for over twenty years, few people actually receive all three injections required to provide immunity. Shaanxi, China
    Xiao Shan gets her one year old son, Cha Li, ready for his final hepatitis B vaccination. While a safe and effective vaccine to prevent hepatitis B has existed for over twenty years, few people actually receive all three injections required to provide immunity. Shaanxi, China
  • Wang Dage’s sister grieves at her brother’s gravesite. Hepatitis B has been called the “silent killer” because it strikes without warning. There are usually no symptoms until the cancer is very advanced.
    Wang Dage’s sister grieves at her brother’s gravesite. Hepatitis B has been called the “silent killer” because it strikes without warning. There are usually no symptoms until the cancer is very advanced.
  • Wang Dage’s mother grieves at her son’s gravesite. Since the virus has a dormancy rate of between three and four decades, most people infected in childhood die of liver cancer in their thirties and forties. Henan, China
    Wang Dage’s mother grieves at her son’s gravesite. Since the virus has a dormancy rate of between three and four decades, most people infected in childhood die of liver cancer in their thirties and forties. Henan, China
  • Shi Dage waits on a hospital bed to receive a liver exam. Without appropriate monitoring or treatment, one in four people infected with chronic hepatitis B will die from liver cancer or liver failure. Henan, China
    Shi Dage waits on a hospital bed to receive a liver exam. Without appropriate monitoring or treatment, one in four people infected with chronic hepatitis B will die from liver cancer or liver failure. Henan, China
  • Wang Dage’s father and children stand next to his ID card. Approximately 100-120 million Chinese are infected with the hepatitis B virus, yet due to a lack of resources and the social stigma that has been associated with the disease, people are unaware of the severe public health risk it poses. Henan, China
    Wang Dage’s father and children stand next to his ID card. Approximately 100-120 million Chinese are infected with the hepatitis B virus, yet due to a lack of resources and the social stigma that has been associated with the disease, people are unaware of the severe public health risk it poses. Henan, China
  • Everyone in this family photo is either currently suffering from or has already died from liver disease. In China, approximately 10% of the population are chronically infected with hepatitis B. Henan, China
    Everyone in this family photo is either currently suffering from or has already died from liver disease. In China, approximately 10% of the population are chronically infected with hepatitis B. Henan, China
  • Since his father's death, Xiao Wang has been taken to school by his grandfather. Like AIDS, hepatitis B is spread from mother to child, infected needles, and unprotected sex. Unlike AIDS, a safe and effective vaccine exists, but inadequate education and a social veil of silence have resulted in the infection of as many as 400 million people worldwide. Henan, China
    Since his father's death, Xiao Wang has been taken to school by his grandfather. Like AIDS, hepatitis B is spread from mother to child, infected needles, and unprotected sex. Unlike AIDS, a safe and effective vaccine exists, but inadequate education and a social veil of silence have resulted in the infection of as many as 400 million people worldwide. Henan, China

Approximately 100-120 million Chinese live with chronic hepatitis B infection. Most acquired the disease at birth, through transmission from an infected mother, or during early childhood. Hepatitis B has touched the lives of virtually every family in China. Without long-term medical care, 15-25% of those infected will eventually die from liver cancer or liver disease. Each year, more people die in China from hepatitis B-associated liver disease than HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria combined.

Poor understanding of hepatitis B has attached a stigma to the disease and resulted in widespread discrimination against those known to be infected. Many Chinese are unwilling to work with or hire persons with the disease because they mistakenly believe that infection can be spread through casual contact. Those who are infected often do not know of need for liver cancer screenings, and many fall prey to unscrupulous merchants who sell ineffective treatments.

Although, like HIV, there is no cure for chronic hepatitis B, appropriate antiviral drug treatment and long-term medical care can reduce its complications. Unfortunately, the cost of long-term suppressive antiviral drug treatments is beyond the reach of most Chinese. And, unlike HIV, there is no access to free or affordable antiviral treatment for the estimated 30 million people in China for whom treatment could potentially be lifesaving. —Aaron Deemer

Topics: 
Health