Chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection is a serious liver disease that, if left undiagnosed or without appropriate medical management, is associated with a 25% chance of death from cirrhosis or liver cancer. To study the demographics and prevalence of chronic HBV infection and HBV vaccination in the Asian American population, we provided free HBV serological screening and administered a survey to 3163 Asian American adult volunteers in the San Francisco Bay Area between 2001 and 2006. Of those screened, 8.9% were chronically infected with HBV. Notably, one-half to two-thirds (65.4%) of the chronically infected adults were unaware that they were infected. Of those who were not chronically infected, 44.8% lacked protective antibodies against HBV and were likely susceptible to future infection. Men were twice as likely as women to be chronically infected (12.1% versus 6.4%). Asian Americans born in East Asia, Southeast Asia, or the Pacific Islands were 19.4 times more likely to be chronically infected than those born in the United States. Self-reporting of prior vaccination was unreliable to assess protection against HBV. Among the 12% who reported having been vaccinated, 5.2% were chronically infected, and 20.3% lacked protective antibodies.
Conclusion: Given the high prevalence of unrecognized chronic HBV infection in the Asian American population, we call for healthcare providers to routinely screen Asian adults for HBV, regardless of their vaccination status. Those who test positive should be provided with culturally appropriate information to prevent disease transmission and proper medical management to reduce their risk of liver disease.