CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Kirk Uechi, left, a liver transplant patient in 1999, and Heather Lusk, right, of the state Department of Health talk with Farrington High School students Travis Wong, Tani Staudinger and Glendolyn Paguirigan about the liver. Uechi and Lusk use a plastic model of the liver in their presentation on hepatitis B, part of a "Get Hip, Stay Hep Free" program held Oct. 18 at Farrington.
Students get hip to risks of hepatitis B infection
A program kicks off at Farrington High to educate on the need for vaccination
A "Get Hip, Stay Hep Free" program has been launched in Hawaii high schools to tell students about hepatitis B, an infectious disease of the liver.
The program is targeting schools with many immigrants from Asian-Pacific areas with high rates of the virus, said Heather Lusk, Community Education Advisory Committee chairwoman for the American Liver Foundation, Hawaii Chapter.
"We're also targeting their parents," she said, particularly mothers because "transmission is from mom to baby."
Hepatitis B vaccinations were required for school entry in 1997, and they have nearly eliminated the viral infection in Hawaii children, according to a study published last October by state epidemiologist Paul Effler and colleagues.
But Lusk said, "Even though they were vaccinated to be in school, if they have hepatitis from their mother, the vaccine does nothing."
The Liver Foundation program was kicked off at Farrington Oct. 18, where a 2005-06 school report lists 58.3 percent of students as Filipinos, 13.3 percent as Samoans and 9.7 percent, part-Hawaiians.
These groups fall into world and national health organization categories for people at high risk for hepatitis B, said Janice Nillias, executive director of the Liver Foundation's Hawaii Chapter.
Hawaii has the highest rate of liver cancer in the country because of hepatitis B and C. An estimated 12,000 to 36,000 isle residents are believed living with hepatitis B, Nillias said.
"We also talk about hepatitis C a little bit," said Lusk, state Health Department coordinator for hepatitis C. "But we're focusing on hepatitis B because of the link of mom to baby and high rate of immigrants."
Nillias said Dr. Linda Wong, Hawaii Medical Center transplant surgeon and vice president of the Liver Foundation board, suggested reaching out to high schools with basic information about the importance of taking care of the liver.
She said the interactive school presentation describes the role the liver plays in the body and lifestyle behaviors that could put kids at risk for hepatitis B.
The risks include using unclean needles to inject drugs, getting tattoos and body piercing with unclean needles and sharing things like razors, toothbrushes and other personal items, perhaps in the gym, she said.
The virus can be transmitted blood to blood, and children born to an infected mother have a 90 percent chance of developing a chronic hepatitis B infection, Nillias said.
Slides are shown covering what gets into the body, Nillias said, "what you breathe, what gets on the skin, what medicines you take, what you eat and drink."
Alcohol can inflame liver cells and cause scarring of the liver, she pointed out.
"The students had a grand time," said Lee Meyers, Farrington health teacher. "They got a lot of information."
She said the presentation was made to three classes totaling about 85 kids. Many were surprised to learn their parents could be carriers of the hepatitis virus and should be tested, she said.
Two liver transplant recipients also talked to the students, Meyers said.
The six health classes, tested before and after the presentation, showed a 25 percent increase in knowledge of the disease, Lusk said.
Nillias said the foundation hopes to go to five schools this school year, reaching 300 to 400 students. The next presentation will be Nov. 16 at Konawaena School on the Big Island, she said.