As we get older, we tend to get tired sooner than in our younger days and find ourselves tacking naps, we also have the occasional lapse of memory and joint pain. For most, these symptoms of age are nothing more than that, signs of aging.

However, for millions of others, (2.7-3.9 million) in the U.S. alone according to the Center for Disease Control, it spells out HCV, the hepatitis C virus.

Hepatitis C is a blood borne chronic infection that is transmitted several different ways. The most common being I.V. drug use although many contracted the virus from blood transfusions in the 1970s and 1980s. Unlike HIV hepatitis C can also be transmitted from a shared razor or toothbrush, and in some rarer cases passed along from birth mother or breast-feeding. The hepatitis C virus can live outside the body for 16 hours and up to 4 days in some conditions.

The hepatitis C virus can take a decade or three in some cases before making itself known, by which time the infected person has liver damage to one degree or another. Because of the slow progression and often-mild symptoms, you will hear many in the medical profession refer to HCV as insidious. It ranks as the number one reason for liver transplants in the U.S. and Europe. Approximately one third of HIV deaths are liver related, in fact, it has become the leading cause of death among patients with HIV, co-infection is common and HCV accounts for the bulk of liver related deaths.

The Hispanic community has been hit hard with numbers ranging as high as one in every fifty; about two percent of the U.S. Hispanic community has been infected with the hepatitis C virus. According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Hispanics have more than a forty percent chance of being infected with HCV than the general population in the U.S.

The current course of action is inoculation for hepatitis A and B, a liver biopsy in order to assess how damaged the liver is and a warning from the doctor to avoid alcohol in any form.

At the present time only one treatment is available and has in some cases resulted in remission, I say remission because reoccurrence is possible. If a doctor deems a patient a candidate for the treatment, it is quite costly, (around $3,000.00 a month), and based on the genotype can last up to 48 weeks, and entails giving oneself weekly injections of pegylated interferon and taking ribavirin capsules.

Health care reform would not only help the uninsured get treatment for this insidious virus but would also lower the number of new cases with preventive medicine.

Tom Fair, tfair@cpusa.org, is an activist in Ohio.

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