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Your Liver, Your Health: Part V – BE AFRAID! BE VERY AFRAID ! ! !

So, y’know, when you’re, like, watching TV and someone is on the news or some talking heads show and saying , “Be afraid…..be very afraid!”, and you’re, like, “Yadda, yadda, yadda……go away !”.

Well, don’t you dare yadda, yadda me on this because I do want you to be afraid. In fact, I want you to be very afraid. There’s a monster in our midst and its name is viral hepatitis.

Hepatitis B virus.

Three years ago on World Hepatitis Awareness Day (WHAD), May 19th, the World Health Organization (WHO) wanted everyone to look in the mirror and ask the question, “Am I number twelve?”

Every twelfth person in the world (over 500 million people) is chronically infected with chronic viral hepatitis B (HBV) or chronic viral hepatitis C (HCV). That’s a staggering number and one that deserves your full and undivided attention. Does that mean every twelfth person in the United States? Yes, no, maybe so. Bad answer, you say? Consider the following: the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) has said that somewhere between 5 and 6 million people in the U.S. are infected – roughly 1.25 million with HBV and the rest with HCV. They usually follow that statistic with the phrase, “Two-thirds to three-quarters of those people don’t know they’re infected.” Huh?

If you link those two statements with the knowledge that those stats are over 25 years old, that they do not include immigrants to this country (HBV is endemic in many parts of the world) and that they do not count those who are incarcerated (where infection rates for HCV can run as high as 80-90%), you may begin to have a sense that there’s a problem here. As in, “Dear CDC, you seriously don’t have any real sense of how many people we’re talking about, do you?!?”.

Well, OK, what about here in Shasta County? Also about three years ago, Shasta County Public Health (SCPH) issued a press release for WHAD stating that Shasta County was among the top ten counties in California for HCV infection. I contacted SCPH trying to find out which counties made the top-ten list. The person who had drafted that press release was no longer employed at SCPH, so I e-mailed the adult viral hepatitis prevention coordinator for State of CA Public Health. She called me almost immediately, saying that she had no idea where someone might have gotten that statistic because no one was doing that kind of testing or surveillance. She also told me how much money was allocated in her budget for that year for viral hepatitis testing and surveillance – zero dollars. That’s right…..$0.00……for the entire state, for the entire year. Not her fault, by the way. She doesn’t do the allocations. She just requests the funding and tries to work with what she receives. As many people know in today’s tough economy, it’s pretty difficult to get anything done with zero, zip, nada.

The CDC has given hints recently that they may try to mandate one-time testing for everyone born between 1945 and 1965 (as you’ll see in Part 6, it should probably be more like over age 20). They know, and have known for over 30 years, that the blood supply was compromised. Hepatitis C was not even given a name until 1989 – before that, it was known as NANB (non-A, non-B hepatitis). The blood supply was not declared free of HCV until 1992. Back in the days when people were paid for the blood they donated, many drug addicts became donors to support their drug habit. Because there was no comprehensive testing or screening program in place, many innocent people became infected through no fault of their own and went on to have a chronic infection of which they were (and still are) completely unaware. The clock is ticking for these people – their chronic infection has been quietly at work destroying their liver. The number of people showing up at their doctor’s office with liver disease is increasing every year and will continue to do so for at least the next 10 or 15 years. While not everyone sustains injury from this chronic infection, many do. As you’ll see in the next segment, there are many other risk factors for exposure. The only way to be sure you’re OK is to get tested.

Don’t you think you should know more about this? I agree……let’s dig in. Next time, viral hepatitis basics.

Hollis Pickett, in partnership with Toni Donovan, runs a Redding area non-profit – Local Area Support For Hepatitis, also known as LASH. Hollis has been involved with hepatitis advocacy since 2002 and is a steering committee member with CalHEP Alliance. She has been the bookkeeper and office manager for the law firm of Carr, Kennedy, Peterson & Frost for the past 25 years. Toni has just completed a Masters in Public Health (MPH) and is currently employed by Planned Parenthood and Acaria Health (a specialty pharmacy). LASH provides community education and patient/caregiver support for those infected with chronic viral hepatitis. A support group meets once a month for patients and their families. LASH offers group presentations, individual counseling and clinical education for patients entering treatment. You can contact them via e-mail at info@lashgroup.org or call Toni (945-7853) or Hollis (524-5601).