Hep C group looks to provide support
Kathy Thomas has been disseminating information about Hepatitis C for the past five or six years at monthly meetings. Since assuming the leadership role after founder Terri Hicklin, Thomas has tried different venues, from churches to community rooms. Right now, the Hep C Support Group meets in the Springhill Room at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital.
Thomas says, “No matter where we meet, it’s hard to get people to come. There’s a stigma attached to having Hep C. Most people don’t want anyone else knowing that they have it.”
That’s because Hepatitis C can only be contracted through infected blood. It is usually spread by sharing syringes or infected water when injecting. So the general public’s idea of someone with Hep C is a drug user.
But that’s not the only way to become infected with this virus. Nonsterile tattooing and body piercing equipment can transmit the virus, too, as well as blood transfusions. The virus can also be passed from ordinary household contacts like razors and toothbrushes shared with someone who has the virus.
Remember Naomi Judd’s story? She was infected through a needle prick many years ago when she was a nurse. That’s the sneaky thing about Hep C and why it’s called the “silent killer.” Many people have it and won’t know it for decades. Four million people in the U.S. are infected with the virus. In the next decade, four times more people are going to die from Hep C than from AIDS.
Thomas is raising awareness in our area by bringing in pertinent speakers for the support group’s monthly meetings. She is also in touch with support groups and stays abreast of workshops and events, including those presented by the Hepatitis C Support Project.
A factor in the difficulty of Thomas’ job to inform our corner of the world about Hep C is the simple fact that not many people know about the disease. Thomas says, “So far, we haven’t found a famous spokesperson to bring Hep C to the attention of the American public.”
The most popular “names” who have come forward to speak for those infected with Hep C are former drug users, especially some of the “older but now wiser” rock group members from the 1970s, like Leon Russell and Elvin Bishop – not a very positive way to separate the stigma from the disease.
Because Hep C is a disease that isn’t in the forefront of the American health psyche, the funding just isn’t there. Even the United States Health Department’s own National Institutes of Health will spend $3,084 per patient this year on HIV/AIDS research, but only $25 per patient to research Hepatitis C.
Even with a lack of financial help, Thomas still tries to pull together limited supplies of brochures, magazines and other handouts for Hep C patients. One magazine, simply called Hepatitis, is crammed full of timely information, including three pages of resources. She would like to have more to give out, but finances are limited.
One of Thomas’ frustrations is that once a patient attends one of her meetings and acquires information, “I never see them again. They have the information they came for.” She wants them to return again and again to keep learning more – and to make sure they’re eating healthy. That’s one of the most important things in beating the virus.
Hepatitis means “inflammation of the liver.” The liver keeps the body functioning smoothly. It helps digest food and get rid of toxins and other things foreign to the body, like drugs. So it’s important to eat healthy foods, especially after being diagnosed with Hep C. Thomas says, “I always try to bring healthy food to each meeting.”
Thomas also stresses the importance of not drinking alcohol. That’s hard for many who are infected by the Hep C virus.
Hep C should not be confused with Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B. Hep A is spread by eating food or drinking water with infected feces. The body usually cures itself. Hepatitis B is spread by having unprotected sex with an infected person or by contact with infected blood. It can be cured.
The only way to tell if you have been infected is to have your blood tested. If symptoms do occur, the individual may experience any or all of the following: jaundice, fever, loss of appetite, fatigue, dark urine, joint pain, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.
Kathy Thomas can tell you more than you ever wanted to know about Hep C. Come by one of her meetings. If you want to make her really happy, keep coming.
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Nevada County Hep C Group
Meetings are held the fourth Friday, January through October
Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, Springhill Room
The public is welcome
Related Web Sites
California Hepatitis C Task Force
American Liver Foundation
Hepatitis C Choices
Events and workshops
June 1, 1 to 3 p.m., workshop for nurses presented by Ken Morgan, chairman, Hepatitis C Support Project
Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, Classroom A
Health Fair, June 2, 3 and 4
Riverfront Pavilion, Marysville
Music legends Leon Russell, Elvin Bishop and the group “A Beautiful Day” will perform
Hepatitis C Training Workshop
Presented by the Hepatitis C Support Project
July 17, 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sierra Health Foundation
1321 Garden Highway
Call Leslie Bensen, 916-454-5431
This workshop is targeted to substance abuse counselors, methadone service providers, case managers and educators who will provide education, support and advocacy for people affected by Hepatitis C. Registrants that complete and successfully pass this program will be certified as HCV basic educators by the Hepatitis C Support Project.
Community Barbecues presented by the Hepatitis C Task Force:
Bijou Community Park, South Lake Tahoe
May 21, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Lyons Park, Placerville
May 20, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Proceeds from both barbecues will benefit Hepatitis C support groups.
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