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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 December, 2004, 00:16 GMT
How I live with hepatitis C
Image of Michael
A stigma still surrounds the virus
The UK goverment is to launch a major campaign to raise awareness of the liver disease hepatitis C. One man describes living with the infection.

Michael, now 53, found out he had the hepatitis C virus 11 years ago.

He believes he caught the infection, which can cause fatal liver problems, from a blood transfusion he had to treat his haemophilia.

Like many people with hepatitis C, dubbed the silent killer, Michael did not have any symptoms and only found out when he had a blood test while in hospital for something else.

Since being diagnosed Michael, from Norwich, says he has experienced prejudice and ignorance about his condition.

Stigma

"There is a terrific stigma attached with the virus.

"It's associated with alcohol and the low life element.

"A lot of my friends luckily have been good. But you have some and you do not hear from them again."

It's been absolutely devastating.
Michael

The virus is carried in the blood, and people with the infection can pass it on if their blood gets under the skin or into the bloodstream of another person.

Examples of how this might happen include intravenous drug users sharing syringes.

For this reason, it has been seen by some as a condition that only occurs in a minority of society, such as drug addicts.

But many people with the virus have caught it after experimenting with drugs only once in young adulthood and other possible routes of transmission are tattooing, body piercing, and through sexual contact, as the virus can be present in bodily fluids such as semen.

Blood donations in the United Kingdom have been screened for hepatitis C since September 1991.

The 'silent killer'

Michael said his doctors told him it is likely he has had hepatitis C since the early 70s.

"I felt shocked when they told me I had hepatitis C.

"When you are told you have got something that can be fatal it is devastating.

"I was quite a senior executive for a furniture manufacturer at the time.

"I travelled around the world and I was up for a promotion.

"It blew away my career. Financially literally and financially I have lost 300,000.

"My wife now has to work full time now, whereas before I was the main earner. We have got two teenagers. It's been absolutely devastating.

"I count myself lucky that so far it has not been devastating health-wise.

"I work now as a postman. I walk more than 70 miles a week and if I can do that then I figure the virus is not going to get me."

He said many of the friends he had met with hepatitis C had died from the disease.

Modern treatments can control the disease in some patients, particularly if it is diagnosed early.

But if liver damage is severe, then a transplant may be the only option.

The shortage of organs for transplantation means patients may have to wait some time before one becomes available.

Even when the liver is replaced, this does not cure the virus - the virus infects the new liver and will eventually start to damage it in the same way.

Michael said: "The government needs to address this. It's so important.

"It's no good people turning up 20 years too late with end-stage liver failure."

He urged anyone who thought they might have been in a situation where they could have caught the virus to visit their GP to be tested.


SEE ALSO:
Hepatitis C
30 Mar 00 |  Medical notes
Liver disease drive not enough
08 Dec 04 |  Health


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