Detecting hepatitis C early is important
Lucinda Porter is a clinical coordinator at the research division of Stanford University Medical Center in Palo Alto and lives with the hepatitis C virus, or HCV. She’ll give a talk on how to live with the disease at a hepatitis C support group meeting scheduled for 4 p.m. Wednesday at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, Room 110, of the Outpatient Center. To confirm, call 274-6124. For more information about hepatitis C, visit http://www.hcvadvocate.org and http://www.nchepc.org.
Porter answers some questions about the disease.
Q: How would you summarize living with HCV?
A: Being a patient is a vulnerable position. Being sick is scary, and being scared about being sick is awful. A person may have to live with hepatitis C but doesn’t have to live with fear.
Q: You told me you contracted HCV from a blood transfusion but prefer not to tell people how you got it. Why?
A: Many of those with hepatitis C contracted it from injection drug use, so there is a stigma attached to it. I prefer to focus on the virus rather than how people caught the virus.
Q: Can HCV be life-threatening?
A: Yes, if it progresses. However, the vast majority of those with hepatitis C will not die because of it.
Q: What does the virus do to people?`
A: It attacks the liver. Many of the 5 million people in this country don’t know they have HCV and find out late in the game that the virus is harming their livers. If they are diagnosed, they can avoid or delay cirrhosis of the liver. They can also prevent spreading it to others.
Q: How does a person get HCV?
A: Blood-to-blood contact with HCV-positive blood. Hepatitis C is the most prevalent blood borne virus ” one shared needle can give it to you. Other ways are blood transfusions ” prior to 1992, and occupationally. It is possible, but rarely, transmitted sexually and during childbirth from a mother with HCV.
Q: Can you get it from the air, doorknobs, casual contact or sex?
A: Essentially, it’s only through blood-to-blood contact and certainly not through kissing or any kind of casual contact.
Q: Can you get it from alcohol or drugs or smoking?
A: It is especially important to stay away from these things if you already have HCV, but these behaviors do not give a person hepatitis C unless they are sharing the needles and drugs with someone who has HCV.
Q: What are the most important things a person with HCV should tend to?
A: Be informed. Don’t give it to anyone else. Take care of your liver. Don’t drink alcohol. Get hepatitis A and B vaccines.
Q: What would you say is the most significant advance that helps people with hepatitis C?
A: When I first joined this field, treatment was hard and had a low success rate. The good news is that the success rate is up to about 50 percent and is more manageable. The bad news is that the success rate is still only about 50 percent.
Q: What is the treatment and what are the side effects of treatment?
A: Treatment, which includes self-injection combined with pills, typically goes on for almost a year. Most people tolerate it, but do suffer a bunch of side effects at various times: Fatigue; depression; dry mouth, skin, and eyes; head, muscle and joint aches. Worse are psychological changes including moodiness, irritability and decreased concentration. Whether people seek treatment or not, detecting the virus early and doing something about it is the best way to minimize the burden of hepatitis C.
Q: You’ve been working with communities to raise awareness for many years. What is your biggest satisfaction?
A: Seeing others regain their courage and start living again.
Chuck Jaffee lives in Nevada City. He conducted this interview with Lucinda Porter, a fellow member of Sierra Writers (www.sierrawriters.org).
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