Lourdes Doctors Urge Testing During Hepatitis Awareness Month

CDC estimates “silent killer” affects five million Americans.

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Camden, NJ (PRWEB) May 13, 2013

When 57-year-old Vineland resident Rafael Roman was hospitalized at a South Jersey medical center with liver failure one year ago, his doctor told him there was nothing that could be done for him. “He told me I’d be lucky to make it to the end of the week,” says Roman, a father of five. “I said to him, ‘You know it’s Thursday, right?’”    

Fortunately, Roman did make it to the end of the week. That Saturday he was discharged from the hospital and immediately sought medical attention at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center, one of six transplant centers in New Jersey and the only facility in southern New Jersey.

Admitted to Lourdes, Roman was evaluated and put at the top of the transplant list. After waiting 45 days – an eternity to someone without time on his side – a compatible liver became available. He was successfully transplanted and discharged 10 days later.

Roman is just one of an estimated five million Americans living with hepatitis C. Caused by a virus spread through blood-to-blood transmission with an infected person, hepatitis C can lead to liver cancer and liver failure. More than 15,000 Americans die each year from illnesses related to hepatitis C. It is the main cause of death from liver disease and the leading reason for liver transplantation.

“Most people who have hepatitis C do not know they have it because they don’t look or feel sick. But hepatitis C can damage your liver for years without causing symptoms,” said Hisham ElGenaidi, MD, Lourdes medical director of hepatology. “With early detection, many people can get lifesaving treatment that can limit the disease’s progression.”

Hepatitis C spreads through contact with the blood of an infected person. You can get the virus if:

  • Your mother had it when you were born
  • You had a blood transfusion before 1992
  • You’ve shared razors, toothbrushes or injection drug needles with an infected person
  • You’ve had intercourse with an infected person
  • You got a tattoo or body piercing at an unlicensed facility

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 75 percent of the 5 million Americans with hepatitis C are baby boomers (adults born between the years 1946 and 1964) and recommends that all boomers get tested. CDC experts believe this testing could find 800,000 new cases of hepatitis C—and save 120,000 lives.

“One reason it is important to diagnose hepatitis C as soon as possible is because the body’s own response effort to the presence of the virus creates inflammation of the liver that can be debilitating,” said Dr. ElGenaidi. “Chronic inflammation can lead to cirrhosis, which significantly diminishes liver function. Cirrhosis is not reversible. We want to catch the disease before it reaches that stage.”

Roman is thankful for the second chance at life that he received at Lourdes and refers to his transplantation date as his new birthday. He says living through the traumas he has lived through has made him all the more grateful.

“I had a rough childhood,” says Roman. “My mom died of cancer when I was as an infant. My dad left our family when I was 12-years-old. I ended up living with my older sister in New York. I had no parental supervision and eventually got involved in drugs.”

Abusing drugs in his youth is why Roman believes he contracted hepatitis C as a teenager. He wasn’t diagnosed until 1996, well after turning his life around and working for the health department, and later at South Jersey AIDS Alliance, where he provided education and treatment information to HIV/AIDS patients and promoted the safe needle exchange program.

“Hepatitis C is a silent killer,” said Dr. ElGenaidi, “Like others with the disease, Mr. Roman didn’t know that he was infected until years later because his initial symptoms were not blatant. Identifying these hidden infections will allow more people to receive treatment before they develop life-threatening liver disease. With testing, we can help save livers and save lives.”

Talk with your doctor about being tested. He or she may check your blood for signs of the virus. If they’re present, you may get a second test to confirm the diagnosis or begin treatment.

If you’re diagnosed, there are steps you can take to protect your health. Take your medications as prescribed, avoid alcohol and talk with your doctor before taking over-the-counter medicines.


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