Real World Health Care Blog

Tag Archives: hepatitis C

Hep, hep, hooray!

Editor’s Note: As we come to the conclusion of Hepatitis Awareness Month, we are pleased to share with our readers a column written by Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post. Gene Weingarten is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and writes “Below the Beltway,” a weekly humor column that is nationally syndicated. The column initially appeared online on May 21, 2015.

As far as helping to erase the unfortunate stigma of the disease, I fear my personal story may not be of much value. While it is true that many hep C victims become infected through blood transfusions or organ transplants, or in other innocent ways, mine was contracted during my college years, when I showed as much care for my personal health as your average suicide bomber. I got hep C because of my appetite for altered states of consciousness, which is a highly dignified way of saying that I enjoyed sticking needles in my arm to facilitate nodding and drooling.

HepatitisAwarenessMonthBecause of modern medicine I no longer have hep C, but in a sense, I am still “living with it.” That is because most every time I get blood drawn for any reason, the results arrive with a gigantic warning that I have hepatitis C. (As it happens, once you have the disease, the telltale antibodies in your blood hang around forever, like your wife’s doofus brother Duane.) For the instant until you remember this fact, the medical news is terrifying, but even afterward you are dispirited. It’s like having one of those suggestive small-of-the-back tattoos, the occasional glimpse of which reminds you that you were once a stupid dirtball.

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A message from our sponsor: If you or someone you love is living with Hepatitis C and is struggling to afford the treatments, the HealthWell Foundation may be able to help. Click here to visit HealthWell’s eligibility page.

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I know that hep C is a particularly insidious scourge, since many people who have it are asymptomatic for a long time, meaning they don’t know they have it, meaning the disease often progresses without treatment for far too long. If you were ever at risk, get tested! I can testify to the wisdom of this because of how I was diagnosed.

I discovered that I had it, and that I’d had it for two decades, only by accident, after going to the doctor following a startling grease-related bodily event that caused me to have to leave work and buy a new pair of pants. (I am telling this here because of my deep commitment to disseminating important medical truths during Hepatitis Awareness Month, and because, as a humor columnist, I have no remaining sense of shame.) My grease problem turned out to have been benign, the result of a single binge episode of eating peanut butter from a tablespoon. This would have been deeply reassuring, except the doctor then told me that something else had shown up in the blood work. “Something else showed up in the blood work” is one of those things that is not good to hear, like a concerto for flugelhorn, vuvuzela and cowbell.

But in the end, my experience with hepatitis C is that I got over it, which I hope will be an inspiration for readers of this blog. It is true that my cure came only after injections into my thighs three times a week for nine years, but this should not be discouraging.

First, the treatment is easier now. Second, the life-or-death uncertainty with which I was living provided philosophically beneficial. For nine years I embraced life as never before, becoming more responsible, more appreciative, a more sober and serious person.

Then I got cured and forgot about all that crap. Win-win!

Awareness and Assistance Are Crucial to Fighting Hepatitis C

May is Hepatitis Awareness Month, a time when the healthcare and patient advocacy communities rally support for the millions of Americans afflicted with the disease, including an estimated 3.2 million suffering from chronic Hepatitis C (also known as HCV).

HepatitisAwarenessMonthOver time, chronic Hepatitis C can cause serious health problems, including liver damage, cirrhosis, liver cancer, and even death. In fact, Hepatitis C is a leading cause of liver cancer and is the number one cause of liver transplants.

While millions live with Hepatitis C, many don’t even know they are infected. This “hidden epidemic” can strike just about anyone, but those born from 1945 to 1965 are five times more likely to have the disease than those in other age groups. That’s why the CDC has issued a recommendation for all Americans born during that time to get a blood test for the disease.

In addition to the baby boomer generation, others may be at high risk for HCV infection, including those who:

  • Use injection drugs
  • Used unsterile equipment for tattoos or body piercings
  • Came in contact with infected blood or needles
  • Received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before July 1992
  • Received a blood product for clotting problems made before 1987
  • Needed blood filtered by a machine (hemodialysis) for a long period of time due to kidney failure
  • Were born to a mother with HCV
  • Had unprotected sex with multiple partners
  • Have or had a sexually transmitted disease
  • Have HIV

For people at risk, knowing they have Hepatitis C can help them make important decisions about their healthcare. Successful treatments can eliminate the virus from the body and prevent liver damage, cirrhosis, and even liver cancer. But sometimes, the cost of those treatments are out of reach, even for those with medical insurance.

Financial Relief Available

The HealthWell Foundation’s new Hepatitis C Fund is bringing financial relief to underinsured people living with the disease. Through the fund, HealthWell will provide copayment assistance up to $15,000 for HCV treatment to eligible patients who are insured and have annual household incomes up to 500 percent of the federal poverty level. To determine eligibility and apply for assistance, or learn how to support this program, visit http://bit.ly/HepC2015.

“The new generation of hepatitis C treatments has brought excitement to patients who have been hoping for a breakthrough,” said Krista Zodet, HealthWell Foundation President. “Through the generosity of our donors, our Hepatitis C Fund is able to help more people receive these treatments while minimizing the worry over financial stress.”

Because many HCV infections are identified only after the patient becomes symptomatic, community health centers are extremely important for getting patients into care. BOOM!Health is a community service organization located in the Bronx, New York, the epicenter of the Hepatitis C epidemic in New York City. It offers a variety of services to those living with HCV infections, including a fully staffed health center, pharmacy services, case management, nutrition education, counseling, pantry services, syringe exchange, behavioral care, and more.

“People living with HCV continue to face serious challenges, such as stigma and lack of access to treatment,” said Robert Cordero, President and Chief Program Officer, BOOM!Health, a community health center based in the Bronx that supports individuals on their journey towards health, wellness and self-sufficiency. “Non-profits that provide funding assistance like HealthWell fill a gap that we’ve watched grow.”

“Nearly 3.2 million people in the United States and about 150 million people worldwide are chronically infected with HCV,” said Tom Nealon, Esq., National Board Chair of the American Liver Foundation, a national patient advocacy organization that promotes education, support and research for the prevention, treatment and cure of liver disease. “The HealthWell Foundation and other independent copay charities play a vital role in seeing that those who are insured but can’t afford their medication copay are able to access and stay on treatment.”

If you or someone you know is living with Hepatitis C, emotional, physical and financial support are critical. What organizations and programs are you turning to for help? Let us know in the comments.