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​RUSS  J. ALAN

MONDAY, JANUARY 11, 201

Deadly virus with no symptoms killing millions worldwide
The deadly virus was first isolated in 1989 and reliable tests to detect it were not available until 1992. Now after 21 years, why still has the word not been spread? In the last 21 years how many lives could have been spared? Is it intentional that the word of this silent killer is not spread? Is it for population control? How many hundreds of millions of people are dying right now and don't even know they are ill? Are you one of them?

In chronic infections, it has no symptoms. It has entered the bodies of approximately 170 million people worldwide. More than 3 million people are chronically infected right now in the United states, where 19,000 new infections and 10,000 deaths due to the disease occur each year. 85% of the people who acquire the disease will become chronically infected.

Without symptoms, the chronically infected don't realize they are sick, much less that they are dying. Many of those people are proud of their health and boast often that they rarely get sick.

The majority infected by the most common strain of the disease who accidentally discover their infection after routine blood screenings and who begin daily anti-viral drug treatment for six to ten months while the virus actively replicates itself within their bodies, unfortunately have only a 50% chance of cure -- the other 50% will continue to be infected with the alien microorganism thriving in their bodies and if they don't already have it, will proceed to cirrhosis of the liver and then to liver cancer.

Have you ever borrowed and used someone else's toenail clipper? Have you shared the same razor with a girlfriend? Have you ever "just this one time" used your lover's toothbrush in a hotel, and noticed you brushed a little hard and a little blood surfaces on your gum? Are you sure your dental hygienist has always used thoroughly sanitized dental instruments? Have you ever had an injection at a doctor's office or had blood drawn but don't remember seeing the needle come out of a sterile factory sealed wrapper? Have you ever had a blood transfusion? Have you ever had an organ transplant? Have you ever shared a hypodermic needle?

Although injection drug use is the most common route for infection, any practice, activity, or situation that involves blood-to-blood exposure can potentially be a source of the infection. The virus may be sexually transmitted, although this is rare, and usually only occurs when open sores and bleeding is also present making blood contact more likely.

The disease is usually discovered by accident during a routine physical examination which includes blood sampling, used to detect other common diseases such as HIV or diabetes. When the blood testing reveals higher than normal liver enzymes, new blood is taken to determine the cause, and the patient is scheduled for abdominal ultrasound imaging. While waiting for the ultrasound appointment, the new blood test results come in. The doctor's office calls. "The doctor needs you to come in. No we won't be able to discuss any of the findings over the telephone. You need to come in. What is a good date and time for you?"  This is December 22.  Your appointment to speak to the doctor is set for January 4th. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

After being traumatized by the mysterious call from your doctor's front office and being held in suspense though the holidays, the patient enters the examining room and after a few moments, the doctor enters. After the usual greeting, he gets right to the point.

"Your blood tests came back with a positive reading for HCV, genotype-1a. You have Hepatitis C."

The patient's heart drops in their chest. Tunnel vision ensues. A feeling of tragedy overcomes the patient's mind -- "It will be OK", says the primary care family practice physician. "I will get you through it. You have genotype 1 and its the most common." The patient breathes a half sigh of relief. "After all -- the doctor's going to get me through it -- and it's genotype 1 and it's the most common. They will know what to do."

The primary care physician now refers the patient to a hepatologist, a doctor who specializes in the treatment of Hepatitis C. The next available appointment is several months away (at the time of this article, we still had a non-government, private sector medical system).

Before the patient leaves the primary care physician's office, the doctor has his nurse inject her in both arms with the first in the series of Hepatitis A (HAV) and Hepatitis B (HBV) vaccines. The patient will get two more -- the next will be in six months. These are necessary to prevent her from being infected with HAV and HBV, which if infected with either or both, would naturally complicate the killing of the HCV virus.

At the time of the writing of this article, there is no vaccine for the prevention of Hepatitis C.

The patient was incorrectly relieved by the news of the commonness of genotype 1 (approximately 80% of HCV patients in the United States). While cure rates of 75% or better are seen in people with HCV genotypes 2 and 3 with 6 months of treatment, cure rates are at about 50% in patients with HCV genotype 1 given 10 months of treatment and 65% in those with genotype 4 (more common in the Middle East and Africa.

The current treatment for HCV is a combination of Interferon (brand names Pegasys or PEG-Intron) along with the anti-viral drug Ribavirin for a period of 6 to 10 months. These drugs have numerous active side effects and the cost of the drugs are astronomical. Pegasys and PEG-intron currently costs over $4000 for a 3 months supply -- 10 months supply of that drug alone would be over $13,500.00. Some of the best prescription insurance plans only pay about $1000 for a three month supply. Due to the cost, most victims of this disease simply cannot afford the treatment. If they do rape and scrape, beg borrow, steal, sell everything they have to pay for the drugs, there is a good chance that the patient may not be cured of the disease. Some patients start the drug treatment, only to drop out after a few months due to illness from the drug side effects or the price. Not finishing the treatment makes the virus incrementally more and more immune to the drugs in new infectees.

Today is a good day for you to make a phone call and schedule a blood test which will include screening for Hepatitis C. Don't be a hero. Don't wait until your liver stops functioning. You or your loved one may be dying and don't even know it.