Be Well, Marsha 01/12/16

The letter C

The ads are everywhere. You can hear them on the radio, see them on television and read them on printed materials. Like banners carrying life-saving messages, you will find them on the sides, backs and interiors of public transportation, warning you about a liver infection that can kill.

If you’re smart and were born between 1946 and 1964, you need to pay attention because hepatitis C is a dangerous disease. The virus attacks and severely damages the liver and can cause cancer. Even though some of the causes are unknown, the hep C virus is transmitted by contaminated blood, both needle sharing and transfusions. The big drug dabbling in the ’60s and ’70s combined with an inadequately screened blood supply before 1992, has contributed to the infection of 3 million Americans with the potentially deadly virus. So far, we know in 2010, it caused 16,000 deaths. We also know more than 70-80 percent of those infected are symptom-free and have no idea they are in harm’s way.

For the most part, baby boomers are at greater risk than other age groups.

“Every person born between 1945 and 1965, by CDC recommendations, is advised to get a one time blood test to measure hepatitis C antibody levels,” advises Dr. Tram Tran, medical director of liver transplantation at the Cedars-Sinai Comprehensive Transplant Center, in an interview with women’s health site LifeScript.

The hep C blood test is not offered during routine health check-ups, so you have to request it. By the time symptoms show, the virus could have been living silently for decades.

However, new drugs that can eliminate the virus and stop the chronic infection are expected to continue flooding the pharmaceutical market. These revolutionary new drugs are expected to reduce the duration of therapy, eliminate severe side effects of treatment and potentially improve outcomes. In fact, the news about hepatitis C is it can be cured—which means the virus is no longer detected when you check three months after therapy is completed.

The scientific advances also have improved the method by which hep C is treated. The therapies are shorter, more effective and free from injections. In the last few years, oral medicines called DAAs, or direct-acting antivirals that work directly against the virus to prevent its multiplication, have become available. Last year, Sovaldi, a new daily drug to treat hepatitis C, resulted in a cure rate of 90 percent for patients when combined with other, older medicines.

“The word is cure. To me, the cure of hep C is one of the most significant medical developments of the last 50 years.”
These words are from an interview in The Denver Post with Dr. Greg Everson, a liver specialist at the University of Colorado Hospital. Acknowledging other drug combinations have worked in the past, Everson says those success rates are much lower—and with Sovaldi, the side effects are improved, with only mild headaches and some fatigue.

The Colorado hospital was involved in clinical trials for Sovaldi. According to The Denver Post, one of the participants is a woman who was exposed in utero to the hep C virus when her mother received a kidney transplant and needed a blood transfusion. The woman and five other people became part of a trial of Sovaldi and another drug, ribavirin. Within one week, she received word the virus was no longer detected in her body. Even though the germ scarred her liver, doctors last year told her it could be saved—if not, transplantation could be an option, especially without the infection.
But at $84,000 for 12 weeks, it can put a crunch on private and government health insurance. That price can create problems and hurdles for treatment.

In Ohio, the state’s single largest Medicaid contractor, CareSource, has stepped up to pay for its clients who need Sovaldi. In an interview with Columbus Business First last year, CareSource Chief Medical Officer Craig Thiele says, “Our first inclination when we heard of this drug—and the cost—was to cover it.”

The drug is expected to change the health prognoses of millions of people.

Many factors impact how hep C progresses: alcohol use, weight, age and co-infection with HIV can push symptoms further and quicker. Yet, the sooner it’s treated, the better the chances of cure.

If you have been diagnosed with hepatitis C, protect others from contact. Use bleach and water to clean up any of your blood spills immediately. Don’t share your toothbrush, nail clippers or razors because those personal items can carry small amounts of blood.
Again, to repeat the earlier part of this writing, if you were born between 1946 and 1964, please ask your doctor for the hepatitis C test.

Be well,


Marsha Bonhart is an assistant vice president of public relations and programs at Wilberforce University, the nation’s first private, historically black college. Reach her at

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