Did you know more people die from Hepatitis C than any other infectious disease?
That is according to the Centers for Disease Control. Baby boomers are five times more likely to have the disease than any other age group.
Sandra Peele, now 52, discovered she had Hepatitis C at age 29.
Sandra is a wife and a mom to two girls, and says at the time she was living a pretty good life, but a simple routine check-up changed everything.
“[The doctor] said my liver was enlarged, so I quit drinking,” Sandra recalled.
Months went by, and her symptoms persisted. She went back to the doctor and was diagnosed with Hepatitis C.
Sandra said she was "floored. What is it? Can it be cured? What do I got?”
She then received more more heartbreaking news: her husband was diagnosed with Hepatitis C as well. To this day, they don’t know how they got it, but together they battled the disease, trying every drug they could find.
“I was scared, especially after trying all the medicines and the trials, nothing would cure it for me,” she said.
Sandra’s road to recovery started at the Digestive and Liver Disease Specialists in Norfolk. Dr. Michael Ryan said Sandra isn’t the only baby boomer who has the disease. He says boomers are five times more likely to get Hepatitis C than other adults’ age groups, and more than half of them don't even know they have it.
“When you get it, it usually causes no symptoms. You have no idea that you have it. It could cause fatigue -- some people talk about having a brain fog -- but most people have no idea they have this," said Dr. Ryan. "It takes about 20 to 50 years. It could accelerate if you drink, or have HIV, or another infection of your liver like Hepatitis B.”
The CDC has a warning for all baby boomers: Hepatitis C can be picked up from medical equipment or from procedures before adequate infection controls were adopted. Others could have become infected from contaminated blood or before blood products were screened. Things like sharing needles or equipment also spread the disease.
Dr. Ryan says right now, there is a push for doctors to screen more people who are considered high risk; baby boomers, people who do drugs, people with tattoos, and even those who routinely get manicures and pedicures.
“One of the problems is it’s not a routine check you get when you go to the doctors," Dr. Ryan explained. "They have to specially request a test for it, and 40 percent have normal liver tests, so it won’t be detected.”
Sandra was lucky her Hepatitis C was detected. After years of struggling with the disease, she could no longer hide it. Her liver started shutting down. She waited months, but eventually received a liver transplant from someone who also had Hepatitis C.
Then after more than 20 years of struggling with the virus, a new drug hit the shelves.
She said, “I stopped taking medicines after the transplant, because Dr. Ryan kept saying, 'This pill is coming out, Harvoni is coming out.' They got my husband on it and it cleaned him, but in the back of my mind I didn’t think it would clear me.”
See Also: More information on Harvoni
But six months ago, Harvoni cleared her. She beat Hepatitis. But she still carries with her lifelong effects from the disease, which make her unable to work.
Sandra said, “I still have so many other problems with my kidneys and stuff. Last time I saw Dr. Ryan, he said, 'I’m not worried about your liver anymore. I’m worried about your kidneys.'”
Last year, Digestive and Liver Disease Specialists saw 400 people with the virus. Today all of them are now Hepatitis free, thanks to new medicines that have come out in the past three years.
“We are curing 97 to 99 percent of people now and in the near future, that we will be cleaning everybody,” said Dr. Ryan.
Both he and Sandra say don’t wait, get checked.
“All it is, drawing blood, a tube of blood. That might take you out tomorrow, or you could have your life,” Sandra explained.