A Silent Killer Unmasked|
By Roxanne Rae Garrett
(September 10, 2000)
Have you felt so tired that you could hardly lift your feet? Maybe lost weight without a cause and notice a slight yellow color to your skin? If the above symptoms fit you or someone you care about, please see that the person gets tested for Hepatitis C.
The Centers for Disease Control and the Veterans Administration are calling this insidious disease one of our next possible epidemics. Hepatitis C can lay in wait for a chance to inflame your liver without you knowing until it might be too late and you have liver cancer or cirrhosis.
Those at risk might not know they are because it is commonly thought that this was a disease for intravenous drug users. I believe many Americans think that this disease is not in the mainstream adult population, but that is far from the truth. Along with drug abuse, there are several other ways people can contract this blood borne infection. They include those who have had a blood transfusion before 1992 when blood was not tested for Hepatitis C . It is thought that many Vietnam Veterans brought this disease home from Asia during the 60's and 70's. Some of those Veterans were on the front lines dealing with injury and death on a regular basis, which put them at risk. The Veterans Administration reports that they are seeing new cases of this infection at alarming rates because it is a disease that can stay in the system for as much as 30 years without the person exhibiting any symptoms. I believe most VA Medical Centers are now routinely testing Veterans for Hepatitis C when they come to their local office for care.
The United States Government has allocated millions of dollars for research into the causes and cure for Hepatitis C. The disease has been around for many years, but the strain that is being seen now in ever increasing numbers did not have a name until approximately 1988. Before then this particular strain was called non A or non B Hepatitis as it had just started to appear as a mutant to previous strains.
There is no cure for Hepatitis C yet and the only treatment that can be offered is Interferon sometimes combined with Ribavarin and called "The Combo". Not everyone who has this disease is a good candidate for the drug combination and even if they are, this is a difficult treatment. First, the patient needs to have a biopsy of the liver which will show the degree of damage that the disease has already done. After the biopsy results, a Hepatologist or Internist will decide if this person needs or will benefit from the Interferon treatment. Many people do not have a high enough viral load to do the Interferon injections, but they will still carry the Hepatitis C virus and they may show increased symptoms later on. There are also those people who have the disease and never know they have it because they remain strong and do not display any of the symptoms. Or they choose to ignore what their body might be telling them. Then there are those who respond to rest after they quit abusive habits such as alcohol and drugs so they do not need the Interferon treatmentl.
The Interferon treatment is done by injection, administered by the patient. The usual course of treatment is over a 6-month period, after which the patient is evaluated to see if the Interferon has lowered the rate of infection. If there is no sign of delaying or stopping the increase of the infection, then treatment might be discontinued and the patient will be put on a transplant list. Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver transplant in America and most other countries. There are many people on the transplant list waiting for a liver the same as those who wait for a kidney or heart to become available. The time on a transplant list can be 30 days to maybe 3 years and there has to be a matching donor before surgery can be performed. A matching a donor is the same body weight and height as the person receiving the liver.
As the wife of a Hepatitis C patient, and a contributing writer of this magazine, I feel this is my chance to let people know about this terrible disease in the hope that even one person will be tested in time to save their life. The symptoms mimic a flu episode followed by a sort of remission when the victim believes they are well again. This flu episode may cause the person to have fever and chills for more than a week, then they will recover. This may happen many times until the person becomes very ill and most likely ends up in the hospital where the disease will finally be diagnosed.
Destructive habits such as drug or alcohol abuse can accelerate the disease, leaving the victim very ill with no hope for treatment; only a transplant can save their life. Many people with advanced stages of the disease die before a donor organ can be found. However, with proper care and rest a Hepatitis C patient can lead a normal life and expect to have many years with their family.
The key to stopping this disease from becoming an epidemic takes all of our help. There is a need to get information out to possible sufferers and to test anyone who is at risk. There is a lot of information on the Internet about Hepatitis in general, and more than ever on Hepatitis C now that many Vietnam Veterans are testing positive. I would like to recommend a few websites that supply well researched information on this serious disease:
Here are a few of the books on Hepatitis C that are available through Amazon.com:
The above information can never replace the opinion of your Physician, so if you are at risk or know someone who is, please be tested by an accredited lab.