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8 February 2002 News Update


About fifty-five thousand people have now been screened in the Northern Region Hepatitis B Screening Programme. This is approximately one third of people targeted - but not enough Maori men are coming forward. Traditionally, Maori women look after the health of the whanau and they need to encourage their men to take a simple and free blood test.

Four thousand people who carry or have Hepatitis B have been identified to date. Many of them have been referred for specialist assessment and treatment.

Nearly 40% of all people screened so far are vulnerable to Hepatitis B and will be offered immunisation against this serious disease. Even though the programme is proving successful, with 80% of Maori who've been screened having their first immunisation, many need to remember to return after a month for the second immunisation and then a month later for the third to ensure they get the full benefit of lifelong protection from Hepatitis B infection.

Fifteen per cent of eligible Maori have been screened so far compared with almost 50% of Pacific People and 45% of Asian People. In some parts of Northland, there has been very good Maori screening coverage (e.g. Hokianga, Te Kao and Whangaroa), but in other areas screening numbers are very low.

Overall, 8% of the 55,000 people tested have been found to be carriers, 53% are immune and 39% not immune. Among Maori, 7% are carriers, 59% are already immune (protected) and 34% are not immune (i.e. they are unprotected). These latter ones are advised to make the most of the free immunisations to protect themselves and their whanau.

Hepatitis B is a serious liver disease, which, if left untreated, can result in cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer

Those most at risk are Maori, Pacific Peoples and Asian people. It is
estimated that up to 10% of these people may have the disease, most of them will be unaware of it.

Pregnant women are especially important, as if they test positive for Hepatitis B, their babies are at high risk of being infected around the time of birth. However, if babies born to Hepatitis B positive mothers are immunised within 24 hours of birth, they have an excellent chance of being protected from infection.

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