Chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection is the leading cause of liver disease and liver cancer and a major source of health-related discrimination in China. To better target HBV detection and prevention programs, it is necessary to assess existing HBV knowledge, educational resources, reporting, and preventive practices, particularly among those health professionals who would be responsible for implementing such programs.
At the China National Conference on the Prevention and Control of Viral Hepatitis on April 26-29, 2004, the Asian Liver Center at Stanford University partnered with the China Foundation for Hepatitis Prevention and Control to distribute a voluntary written questionnaire to Chinese healthcare and public health professionals from regional and provincial Chinese Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, health departments, and medical centers. Correct responses to survey questions were summed into a total knowledge score, and multivariate linear regression was used to compare differences in the score by participant characteristics.
Although the median score was 81% correct, knowledge about HBV was inadequate, even among such highly trained health professionals. Of the 250 participants who completed the survey, 34% did not know that chronic HBV infection is often asymptomatic and 29% did not know that chronic HBV infection confers a high risk of cirrhosis, liver cancer, and premature death. Furthermore, 34% failed to recognize all the modes of HBV transmission and 30% did not know the importance of the hepatitis B vaccine in preventing liver disease. Respondents who reported poorer preventive practices, such as not having personally been tested for HBV and not routinely disposing of used medical needles, scored significantly lower in HBV knowledge than those who reported sound preventive practices. Of note, 38% of respondents reported positive HBsAg results to patients' employers and 25% reported positive results to patients' schools, thereby subjecting those with positive results to potential discriminatory practices.
These results indicate that there is a need for development of effective educational programs to improve HBV knowledge among health professionals and the general public to avoid missed vaccination opportunities, reduce misconceptions, and eliminate discrimination based on chronic hepatitis B in China.