UC Davis Health aims to end hepatitis B spread

Federal grant supports collaborative effort to screen, vaccinate and link Asian Americans to care


UC Davis Health, in partnership with Sacramento County and community clinics, hopes to end the spread of hepatitis B virus in Sacramento County with the help of a newly announced federal grant.

Moon Chen
Moon Chen

The $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health will  help providers screen up to 9,000 Asian Americans for hepatitis B and vaccinate those not infected, regardless of race or ethnicity. It will also link individuals at risk to care. The project, called END B, will work to stop viral transmission from before birth through the lifespan.

“We are thrilled to bring together our community and county public health experts to demonstrate that we can establish a comprehensive program to spare the next generation of Sacramento County residents from this disease,” said Moon Chen, Jr., associate director of Population Sciences and Community Outreach/Engagement at the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center and principal investigator of the grant. “We believe our program will serve as a national model to address this deadly disparity.”

Hepatitis B and liver cancer

Hepatitis B virus is a leading risk factor for liver disease and liver cancer, the world’s second deadliest cancer. The virus is preventable, and yet in Sacramento County thousands of Asian Americans are infected with the virus and remain at risk for serious disease.

To implement END B, UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Clinical and Translational Science Center (CTSC) will collaborate with the Health and Life Organization (HALO) community clinics, the largest healthcare provider to Asian Americans in Sacramento County. It will also partner with the Sacramento County Division of Public Health. The grant is one of six around the country awarded to identify the most effective ways that government, community and other organizations can help end HBV transmission and reduce its associated illness and death.

“We are excited that END B could be a model national program based on the synergistic collaboration of the academic, community and governmental sectors,” said Ted Wun, director and principal investigator of the CTCS and associate dean of research for the UC Davis School of Medicine. “We believe that END B might be the template for addressing other vaccine-preventable diseases.”

An estimated 850,000 to 2.2 million people in the U.S. are living with chronic HBV, but only a third of them have been diagnosed. HBV spreads when someone comes in contact with the blood, semen or other body fluid of an infected person. The virus also can pass from a mother to her baby during birth. The disease disproportionately affects Asian Americans, who make up about half of all U.S. cases.

Cancer Center is committed to reducing risk of hepatitis B in Asian Americans

The UC Davis Comprehensive Center has a distinguished record of research and outreach to understand and reduce the HBV disparity among Asian Americans. Researchers determined, for example, that Hmong Americans experience the shortest survival due to chronic hepatitis B infection and that screening rates in that community could increase significantly using bilingual and bicultural lay health educators. The Cancer Center has screened more than 6,000 Asian Americans for the virus in recent years.

“What really excites me is that END B will allow us to comprehensively decrease the transmission of HBV, not only in adults, but, in collaboration with Sacramento County and HALO, we can potentially eliminate the perinatal transmission of HBV and assure that all newborns are properly vaccinated,” said Primo Lara, Jr., Cancer Center director.

Sacramento County Division of Public Health’s Karman Tam, an epidemiologist, and Amy Beste-Fong, a perinatal health nurse, will lend their expertise to the project. The CTSC will provide clinical trials recruitment support and assistance to investigators with planning and implementing research. HALO’s network of primary care clinics will serve as the sites for screening, vaccination and treatment of patients with chronic hepatitis B infection.