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More Hepatitis B Patients Need Specialist Referrals

San Francisco study suggests most patients not referred to specialist at time of diagnosis

TUESDAY, May 15 (HealthDay News) -- Only about half of patients with chronic hepatitis B virus reported to the San Francisco health department in 2006 had seen a specialist or were being treated at the time of diagnosis, even though treatment can help stop or delay related liver disease, researchers report in the May 11 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed 2006 San Francisco public health records and found 2,238 people were reported with probable hepatitis B infections. A follow-up survey was sent to the health care providers of patients with contact information. A total of 567 surveys were returned.

Of these cases, the researchers found that 85 percent of patients were Asian/Pacific Islanders and 80 percent were born overseas and most likely infected in countries where the virus is endemic. Fewer than one-third (32 percent) of cases were referred to specialists and 21 percent had been treated for chronic hepatitis B virus infection.

"Persons from countries where hepatitis B virus infection is endemic might be unaware of their increased risk for hepatitis B-related liver disease," the authors write. "Hepatitis B screening programs in Asian/Pacific Islander communities in the United States can be an effective means of identifying persons with chronic hepatitis B virus infection and encouraging them to seek medical care."

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