About fifty people wearing matching superman-themed “B a Hero” shirts gathered in Love Park Friday afternoon to raise awareness for Hepatitis B.
They were organized by Hep B United Philadelphia, a campaign backed by the Hepatitis B Foundation to get more Philadelphians tested and vaccinated against the virus.
Most people who are infected with Hepatitis B don’t know it, but between 2,000 and 4,000 people die each year from liver cancer or cirrhosis caused by the infection.
In Pennsylvania, more than 5,000 people are infected each year through blood or bodily fluids.
“For all adults out there it’s very important that they know if they are at risk,” said Chari Cohen, with the Hepatitis B Foundation. “There are no symptoms associated with Hepatitis B so we’re here to spread the word that people need to be tested for Hep B to make sure that if they have it they know they have it so they can see a doctor.”
Vaccination against Hep B was recommend for all children starting in 1991, but many adults are not immunized, said Alex Shirreffs, a hepatitis prevention coordinator with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.
“We’re particularly concerned about mother-to-child transmission,” said Shirreffs. “If an adult gets it they have a pretty good chance of clearing the virus and not having it cause serious damage. If a child is born to a mother with Hep B and it’s not discovered, that child has a much higher risk of having liver cancer and long-term liver damage.”
The virus and its first vaccine were discovered in Philadelphia by Baruch Blumberg, the Nobel-prize willing Fox Chase Cancer Center doctor who passed away last year.
Saturday is the first ever national Hepatitis Testing Day, and free testing will be offered in three Philadelphia locations.
Chronic infection significantly raises one’s risk for cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Hepatitis B disproportionately affects African Americans and Asian Americans.