Hepatitis B study reveals lack of knowledge

yamaro@mercedsunstar.comOctober 16, 2012 

Several focus groups in Merced that were organized over the last year concluded that there's a lack of knowledge about hepatitis B in the Hmong community -- a highly susceptible group.

Project prevention -- an organization of young professionals, UC Merced students and a researcher -- received a one-year $27,500 grant last fall to help combat hepatitis B.

The disease is prevalent in members of the Hmong community, including those living in Merced.

The grant was used to determine what Hmong residents know about the disease and create a coalition that spans multiple generations to try to deal with the problem, said Linda Xiong, who is part of the project.

Over the last year, the group conducted four focus groups with leaders in the community and local residents suffering from the disease.

"The outcome was that we found that there was a lack of hepatitis B knowledge about transmission, the different strengths of hepatitis B, and how to get vaccinated, or how vaccination and treatment worked," Xiong said.

Jennifer Xiong, another member of the project, said the lack of knowledge can likely be attributed to poor education and low literacy rates in the Hmong community.

Some in the Hmong community don't understand how Western medicine works, she added. For example, she said some don't understand how the body can become immune to hepatitis B through vaccination.

"I think we need to have more awareness about hepatitis B in the community," Linda Xiong said. She and her sister, members of the Hmong community, work on trying to resolve its health care disparities.

More education of local care providers is needed, Linda Xiong said, so they better understand that the Hmong are at risk for this disease, and will then encourage vaccinations of these patients.

The group was able to create a coalition to help close the gap between the young Hmong residents and the old. "We cannot wait for others to help us," Linda Xiong said. "We need to work together to get our agendas across."

The work done with the support of the grant was recently completed, and the group has applied for a different grant to continue the effort.

As part of their grant proposal submitted to Dignity Health, the parent company for Mercy Medical Center, Linda Xiong said the group wants to do more health education.

The renewed effort would educate care providers and Hmong mothers who are infected with hepatitis B. The goal is to make sure their babies receive all the three hepatitis B vaccines to help prevent chronic cases from developing in these children.

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at(209) 385-2482, or yamaro@mercedsunstar.com.

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