As a scientist who has studied the Hepatitis B virus for over a decade, I’ve learned that Hep B is a silent disease because it doesn’t cause any obvious symptoms. It slowly eats away at your liver while you sleep soundly. It gets spread around inadvertently and without anyone knowing until the late stages of liver disease. Some people only find out that they have Hep B when they feel sick because their liver is failing; others might find out from a blood test for something completely unrelated.

I found out I had Hep B after a routine blood test when I was a teenager. I did not feel sick, and I still do not. But I know that if I do not monitor the infection and do not get treated now, it will be something I could pay for later – the price being liver cancer or liver failure.

I am lucky; others do not even have that choice because they might have no idea they are infected. As a community we need to find this silent virus wherever it is hiding: test more people, treat more people, and prevent more suffering. But we are battling more than the virus itself…

As someone who has a chronic HBV infection, Hep B being a silent disease has meant shutting up about it. Be silent, or be shunned by friends. Be silent, or risk losing your job. Be silent, or get thrown out of the country. Be silent and bear the burden of shame yourself.

And the virus thrives in this environment. The silence means less treatment, so Hep B will continue multiplying without interference. The silence means less patient monitoring, so Hep B can do whatever it wants in the liver without any consequence. The silence means no education about the risks of transmission, so Hep B can spread to other people freely. The silence means governments don’t know to fund research into new treatments, so we have fewer weapons to fight against Hep B.

I have made the decision to stand up to the virus, and speak up. I will not be silent anymore; I started talking to my family and friends, to my colleagues, even to the media. Contrary to what I feared, after “coming out” I was shown support, acceptance, and gratitude. There are communities of people who understand, who share the same experiences, and who can give advice on with the issues that surround Hep B. 

Our voices are our weapons against the virus, just as much as any medical treatment. It is starting to work: governments are taking notice, policies are change, and communities of affected people are growing. Only by using our voices (and loudly) can we continue these improvements and defeat Hep B once and for all.