The liver is important–so get out the hep C testing message

As Hepatitis Awareness Month continues, it’s time to think more about testing for hepatitis C. The disease is curable, but the liver, if too severely damaged, is not.

Everyone who has hep, had hep, works with people who have hep C or is reading this blog because of other interests, should pass the testing message along. It’s vital, just like the liver.

Hepatitis C ravages the liver. It’s symptoms usually creep up sluggishly and at first, imperceptibly. That’s why most people with the chronic form of the disease don’t know they have it. That’s why feeling symptoms of hep C should not be the only reason to be tested.

Being a baby baby boomer or suspecting you have been in contact with someone else’s unscreened blood should be the reason.

You can’t live without a liver. It filters blood, removing harmful substances, such as alcohol. It manufactures proteins that defend against infection and help the blood to clot. It regulates the supply of vitamins, minerals, and hormones, including sex hormones. It produces, stores, and regulates glucose and fat. It makes and eliminates cholesterol and also converts it into lipoproteins that deliver energy to the cells.

Altogether, the liver performs more than five hundred bodily functions. It continues to do these jobs during the early stages of hep-caused fibrosis, and early on it can recover fully from damage. Later, when the liver hardens into cirrhosis, it progressively loses important abilities. When the damage becomes severe, liver cancer or a liver transplant are common results.

So no one should risk this vital organ, whether they have symptoms of hep C or not. It’s easy to get tested. Just ask your doctor–or ask your friends to ask theirs.

Three-fold increase in hepatitis C an epidemic?

In a rural area of central New York State, the number of hepatitis C infections climbed more than three-fold last year.

The number of people in Chenango County who are infected with hep C jumped to 66 in 2014 from 20 in 2013, the county’s health department reported this month. Chenango’s population is 50,000.

Location of Chenango County in New York State

Location of Chenango County in New York State

Could this mean an epidemic has taken hold of this quiet, rural region? Or could this mean that hep C has been there all along but many more people are getting tested? Hopefully the second question is the answer.

Just 40 bucks to test for hep C

About two years ago Daryl Luster started pushing for universal testing for hepatitis C among Baby Boomers. Daryl is the president of board of the Pacific Hepatitis C Network and a Boomer himself. I met him at a Starbucks in Richmond, B.C., this week, and he told me about his year-long ordeal on interferon. He lost 30 pounds in the first two weeks. He was cured in 2011.

Daryl Luster, president of the Pacific Hepatitis C Netword, at Starbucks in Richmond, B.C.

Daryl Luster relaxes with a cup of java. Coffee is good for the liver.

Before that, he spent three years with symptoms. He says he looked like “a middle-aged businessman guy,” so his doctor never thought of testing him. But few Baby Boomers fit any stereotype, and it’s been a long time since they wore hippie beads or disco pants.

It’s also a wonder that 40 percent of those who are infected with hepatitis C don’t know it. Some 70 – 80 percent of them are Baby Boomers.

Daryl has been advocating for testing of all Baby Boomers, regardless of whether they feel pangs in their liver, have jaundice, or have memories of a risk-filled youth. Yet Canada—including the federal and provincial governments—has never pushed for wide-scale testing. “Why is this such a leap for Canada?” Daryl asks. “The first test costs about 40 bucks.”

That’s next to nothing compared with the cost of treating liver disease. With success rates for treatments edging up toward 100 percent, and with heavy side-effects becoming a rarity, it’s time for everyone to get tested—and cured.

My Big Hepatitis C News: the 12-week post-treatment viral count

The door to my right was open onto the treatment room, where two men and a woman rested in puffy brown-leather chairs with IV lines hanging from metal frames above the chair backs. A hallway extended straight in front of me where a string of office doors lay open or shut. Two nurses scurried past into the narrow hall. Neither of them were Maria. I was anxious to see her. I was waiting for news.

Suddenly there she was. Suddenly she hugged me. “It’s undetectable,” she proclaimed, and we smiled at each other and laughed. That was just yesterday. My hep is gone Although the standard for a cure has been an absense of detectable hep RNA in the blood 24 weeks after treatment, the Federal Drug Administration in the U.S. recently began accepting a 12-week null count as proof of a cure. I’ve reached my 12 weeks! More to come.

Heading toward SVR: you can swat away the hepatitis C fears

A few nights ago giant spiders attacked me. They tried to build a nest on my head. When I swatted at them, they climbed down my face. I swatted and swatted at the fist-sized creatures, and they tumbled down my chest and scurried away. They were a dream brought on, I surmised, by the impending results of my most recent viral count. It has been 12 weeks since I stopped swallowing two ordinary-looking pills each morning,which I took for exactly 12 weeks. The white capsule was Simeprevir. The tan, football-shaped pill was Sofosbuvir. Together, they are supposed to rid the blood of the hep C virus. I hope they worked for me.

Simeprevir (trade names Galexos and Olysio), a protease inhibitor, keeps the hep C virus from linking amino acids, which it needs to do in order to reproduce. Sofosbuvir (trade names Solvaldi and Virunon), is a direct-acting antiviral. It inhibits an enzyme that duplicates the virus’s RNA code.

As most people in the hep community know, SVR stands for sustained virologic response. It’s the medical lingo for having no detectable virus in the blood 24 weeks after the end of treatment. With the new direct-acting antivirals and protease inhibitors, a 12-week SVR could indicate a cure.

My 12-week result is coming later this week. I’m nervous and having strange dreams about it, but I believe the spiders will be gone.