Patients confused over hepatitis B transmission

Tuesday 28 July, 2015

Largest Australian study finds knowledge gaps which could lead to liver disease and cancer

  • 44% of people living with hepatitis B incorrectly believed the disease could be transmitted by kissing
  • 56% were unaware that hepatitis B can be transmitted through unprotected sex
  • 70% thought hepatitis B can be cured by taking traditional Chinese medicine. Only 52% knew there are effective treatments available
  • Overall patients failed the test of hepatitis B knowledge, scoring 55 out of 100 points

People living with hepatitis B know very little about their condition, including how the disease is transmitted. The finding was made in the largest Australian study* to quantify hepatitis B knowledge, recently published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.

The impact

Additionally, 46% of patients thought that the virus could be transmitted by sharing utensils.

"Misunderstandings of transmission could have the potential to marginalise patients from Asian cultures where sharing food is an important cultural norm," says co-author of the study Chris Enright, Manager of Priority Populations at Cancer Council Victoria.

Left untreated, one in four people with chronic hepatitis B will die from serious liver disease and/or liver cancer. Approximately 220,000 Australians are living with chronic hepatitis B.

The role of GPs

The study's lead author Dr Behzad Hajarizadehof of La Trobe University said that the research highlights the important role of GPs.

"Our study reinforces that health professionals, including GPs are the most trusted source of information for people with chronic hepatitis B. It's important to give the patient detailed information about their disease not only when they are diagnosed, but the education and monitoring of the disease needs to continue in future GP consultations," he said.

To assist GPs, an online website was developed by the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory in partnership with Cancer Council Victoria called HepBHelp. The site helps the GP diagnose hepatitis B and know which patients are eligible for free vaccinations. 

Care for the at-risk

"GPs need to remember that two in five people living with hepatitis B have not been diagnosed. Yet our current system relies on the patient to know that they are to ask for a hepatitis B test. There's a big issue here because most patients would assume their GP would initiate this conversation," said Ms Enright.

The migrant populations from endemic hepatitis B areas of Africa, Asia and the South Pacific are most at-risk of chronic hepatitis B and related liver cancer.

"It's ideal for the GP to spark this conversation with their patients if they know they are from one of the at-risk countries."

Cancer Council Victoria's work in hepatitis B is focused on increasing access to medical monitoring and treatment to prevent liver cancer. 


*The study's 93 participants all live with chronic hepatitis B. See more details: Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health