Monday, April 5, 2010

Get Tested - Brooklyn Eagle Article

Everyone Should Be Tested for ‘Hidden Disease’ of Hepatitis C
by Brooklyn Eagle (, published online 09-23-2009
By Betty Vega

There are an estimated 200 million people worldwide infected with HCV — ”making it one of the greatest public health threats faced in this century, and perhaps one of the greatest threats to be faced in the next century. Approximately five million people across the country are infected with Hepatitis C. It is five times more prevalent than AIDS and approximately 10,000 people die annually as a result of HCV. 65% of those infected with Hepatitis C are between 30 and 49 years old.

Hepatitis C is often called a “hidden disease” or “silent epidemic” because those infected with HCV are often unaware for 10-30 years after exposure. The symptoms of HCV are easy to misdiagnose and often resemble the flu or a variety of other conditions. When symptoms are present they can include extreme fatigue, nausea, liver pain, and depression.

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that predominantly infects the cells of the liver. This causes inflammation of and sometimes significant damage to the liver, thus affecting its ability to perform essential functions. There are several ways one can contract the virus. Having had a blood transfusion prior to 1992, being born to a mother with hepatitis C or needing a C-section; having sex with an infected person (if blood is present); being tattooed or pierced with unspecialized tools that were used on an infected person; getting stuck accidentally with a needle used on an infected person; sharing an infected person’s razor, hairbrush, comb or toothbrush; sharing drug needles with an infected person and manicures or pedicures.

This is where the need for education and awareness arises. Through standard blood workup procedures, hepatitis C will not show up. Unfortunately even with elevated liver enzymes, doctors don’t equate that with hepatitis C. For the most part, physicians don’t know nearly enough about the virus. People should see a gastroenterologist or better yet, a hepatologist, who will have more knowledge about diagnosis for hepatitis C. The only way to determine if you have this virus is by having a hepatitis C test, exclusively.

Without treatment, approximately 20% of those untreated will develop cirrhosis, (fibrosis occurs when extensive scar tissue develops), liver cancer, or will need liver transplantation (when liver no longer can function) or face death.

I went through years of annual blood workups displaying elevated liver enzymes and was told it meant nothing. Could be from taking other meds or being overweight; never going forward with any other testing. I met a new primary care physician in 2002 who, after seeing my blood results, told me to get this other test I had never heard about. So I went to the lab, got tested for hepatitis C and got the phone call at work. I was positive.
My reactions were mixed; mostly shock. I did, however, follow her directions and saw a hepatologist who treated me for a year and a half. The news was wonderful. I had cleared this virus. It was four years September 13th. I’m one of the lucky ones. This year I lost a couple of friends who were never treated for the virus. They became quite ill and eventually their livers gave out. It doesn’t have to be that way. I’ll never know how I got it or exactly how long ago. At this point it doesn’t matter. Getting tested is the only thing that matters. It’s life or death.

Betty Vega, a hepatitis C survivor, is support group facilitator for the disease at Long Island College Hospital. She can be reached at for more information.

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