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Ponni Perumalswami treats patients who have advanced liver diseases. She also is working to reach communities at risk for viral hepatitis B and C to connect them to testing, education, and healthcare.

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She explains

  • The differences, such as transmission means, between hepatitis B and C;
  • The reason why some foreign-born communities are at risk and how her group is trying to make their way into the center of these groups; and
  • Why these diseases of the liver, while usually asymptomatic for years, can cause damage leading to treatments like liver transplantation. 

Ponni Perumalswami is an associate professor of medicine in the Division of Liver Diseases at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine. She tells listeners that there’s an at-risk population for hepatitis B and C that she and her colleagues are targeting. In the U.S., while the diseases are less common in the general population, at-risk groups who immigrate from areas with higher rates, specifically Asian and African-born communities, are hard to reach.

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Because they may not have insurance and are not English speakers, they aren’t in touch with primary care doctors who might normally screen for these diseases and they can be asymptomatic for years.

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Her outreach efforts include testing within the communities and awareness-raising efforts.

Dr. Perumalswami explains how these diseases work. She explains that hepatitis B is a DNA virus that largely infects foreign-born populations because the U.S. has had the means to vaccinate and test for this disease. It spreads by a vertical transmission from mother to child. Hepatitis C is transmitted through blood exposures, so through intravenous drug use, blood transfusions, and organ donations done before 1992 when testing became available.

Even though each can exist in the body silently for years, they can still do tremendous damage in the liver, and increase one’s risk for cirrhosis, cancer, and other disease of the liver that may need liver transplantation.

For more, see the Mt. Sinai Liver Diseases Division website

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