Students take hepatitis B outreach into Dallas-Fort Worth Asian community

By Dwayne Cox / April 11-20, 2011

For third-year UT Southwestern Medical School student Doan Dao, his knowledge of hepatology and three years of experience in research studies of hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection make him a natural to lead the Dallas-Fort Worth Hepatitis B Free Project.

His heritage demands it.

UNT students conduct research in the Dallas-Fort Worth Hepatitis B Free Project.

The project, initiated by the American Pacific Asian Medical Student Association (APAMSA) at UT Southwestern aided by a sister group at the University of North Texas Health Science Center (UNTHSC) in Fort Worth, is an ongoing effort to increase HBV awareness among the area’s Asian and Pacific Islander (API) population. Recent census estimates indicate that at least 250,000 APIs live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, with 85 percent being foreign-born.

“One in 10 Asian-Americans is infected with HBV,” said Mr. Dao, who emigrated from Vietnam at 18. “That means that as many as 25,000 APIs in the Metroplex may be HBV-infected.

“Up to 65 percent of the API adult population in the U.S. with chronic HBV is unaware that they are infected. The Dallas-Fort Worth Hepatitis B Free Project wants to change that.”

A key project initiative involves screening members of the area’s South- and East-Asian immigrant communities for HBV, vaccinating those who don’t carry the virus, and directing those who do to appropriate treatment.

Volunteers administered free, simple blood tests to more than 30 foreign-born APIs at a March event in Richardson, and planned to screen as many as 100 more April 23 at the Saigon Mall in Garland. Student volunteers from UT Southwestern and UNTHSC staff the screenings, with professional phlebotomists on hand for blood draws, and faculty members on site to supervise and speak at educational sessions before the testing.

Two weeks after each screening event, those tested will be invited to a follow-up educational session, where they will receive their results, a first shot of hepatitis B vaccine if they do not have the virus, and advice on next steps.

The free screenings and vaccines are funded mainly by grants from the National APAMSA and the NIH-sponsored North Texas Hepatitis B Research Network (NTHBRN). Additional funding comes from other sources such as campus bubble tea and T-shirt sales. Mr. Dao hopes the success of the free screenings and vaccinations will lead to additional funding to extend and expand the project, and that goal appears to be coming true.

Mr. Dao has been invited to join the National Task Force on Hepatitis B: Focus on Asians and Pacific Islander Americans, and the Texas Department of State Health Services has asked the Dallas-Fort Worth Hepatitis B Free Project to help plan the 2011 Texas Viral Hepatitis Summit scheduled for November in Dallas.

“We are determined to bring a preventive services approach to combat HBV in our community, and this starts with screening those at high risk,” said Mr. Dao, who plans to focus on hepatology research after completing his medical training.

Active advisers for the project include Dr. William Lee, professor of internal medicine and principal investigator of the NTHBRN; Dr. Son T. Do, clinical assistant professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern and past chair of the National Task Force on Hepatitis B; Joan Block, executive director and co-founder of the Hepatitis B Foundation; and Dr. Robert Perrillo, associate director of hepatology at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas. Drs. Do and Perrillo are also co-investigators of the NTHBRN.

For more information on hepatitis B – volunteering, screening and where to get help – see www.hepbnet.org and utswapamsa.tripod.com.

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