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A New Voice for a Silent Epidemic

A New Voice for a Silent Epidemic

(NewsUSA)- As a typical baby boomer in my 50s, my life is filled with juggling work, family and the usual day-to-day responsibilities. My normal routine was suddenly knocked off course, however, when I discovered that something I did 20 years ago resulted in my infection with hepatitis C, a virus that attacks the liver.
This scary and shocking discovery was made when my doctor, who was familiar with my history, suggested he test me for the disease. I told him I felt great and didn't see the need to get tested. Luckily, after much persistence, my doctor convinced me to take the test -; and it changed my life.
After the initial shock of the news, I decided to fight back by getting treated. Luckily, treatment for hepatitis C is available today and is effective for many patients. Now, five years after successfully completing a course of treatment, there is still no trace of the virus in my blood. I was given a second chance to tell my story and help others -; a chance I have been using to promote hepatitis C awareness and education.
Known as a "silent disease," hepatitis C often has few, if any, signs or symptoms before it causes significant liver damage. If left untreated, hepatitis C can lead to liver cancer, cirrhosis, liver transplantation and even death. In fact, hepatitis C-related deaths are expected to increase dramatically in this country in the coming decades. Contrary to popular belief, there is no vaccine for hepatitis C.
Awareness of this disease is lacking in our country and, as a result, leads to countless individuals remaining undiagnosed. In fact, it is estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that hepatitis C affects 4 million people in the United States -; four times the number of people affected by HIV/AIDS. How can we take action against a disease we know nothing about and for which there are few -; and often no -; symptoms?
Activities that may put people at risk for hepatitis C infection include blood transfusions or major surgery in the United States prior to 1992, illicit-injection drug use, needlestick accidents among healthcare workers or any other blood-to-blood contact. One in five people have something in their past that puts them at risk for hepatitis C, but routine blood tests and yearly physicals typically do not include screening for the virus.
I ask you to think about your past, talk to your doctor about getting tested and then tell your friends to do the same. If we work together, hepatitis C can be stopped.
For more information on hepatitis C or to listen to patient stories, visit, a resource sponsored by Roche.
Christopher Kennedy Lawford is the author of "Symptoms of Withdrawal: A Memoir of Snapshots and Redemption," a New York Times Bestseller.

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