This week’s book excerpt is from the Introduction to Hepatitis C Treatment One Step at a Time – Inspiration and Practical Tips for Successful Treatment.
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it! ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is the most common blood-borne infection in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that 3.2 million Americans are infected with HCV; some experts point out that because the CDC didn’t survey people with high risk for HCV, estimates are closer to five million or more. Of those who have it, 75 percent are baby boomers born from 1946 through 1965. Since 2007, more people in the United States have died from HCV than from HIV. The majority of those who have HCV are unaware that they have it.
Unless something is done, the death rate from HCV is expected to rise. HCV damages the liver slowly, often taking more than 20 years before its impact is noticeable. At its worst, HCV can cause severe scarring of the liver, a condition known as cirrhosis. Those with cirrhosis are at risk for liver cancer, end-stage liver disease, and death. The symptoms of cirrhosis include accumulation of fluid in the belly (ascites), risk of hemorrhage, and a heartbreaking dementia known as hepatic encephalopathy. Experts estimate that by 2020, more than a million people with HCV will have cirrhosis in the United States.
Even those without cirrhosis may be suffering from the effects of this virus. HCV multiplies a trillion times a day in the liver, causing liver damage and various symptoms. Fatigue is the most common complaint, but depression, and cognitive problems are frequently reported. Because the body’s immune system tries to destroy HCV, patients may experience muscle and joint pains, headaches, and dry mouth. Sometimes other organs are affected and people with HCV are at higher risk for other diseases and death from causes other than just from liver-related ones.
For many, the emotional burden that accompanies HCV can be worse than the physical one. HCV has the power to rob hope from the future. Patients wonder what this virus will do to them, their families, and their dreams. Fear of infecting others is a frequent burden, as patients obsess over whether they have done all they can to protect those with whom they come in contact. Finally, there is HCV’s stigma, brought on both because of having an infectious virus, and its association with injection drug use. For some, HCV’s stigma is a heavier burden than the virus is.
As one of the millions with HCV, I understand what it is like to live with it. I acquired HCV during a blood transfusion in 1988, when the virus was still known as non-A, non-B hepatitis. The blood transfusion saved my life; hepatitis C changed my life. Fear about having HCV, suffering with it, and perhaps dying from it crippled me more than the virus did. In time, I learned to live without fear. The great paradox is that HCV has given me a new enthusiasm for life. Living with a life-threatening virus is a dramatic reminder to get the most out of today, since nobody knows what tomorrow will bring. Now, hepatitis C is not merely a diagnosis to me; it is my calling.