Greg Allman: “Doing nothing is not an option” for this
His death due to complications of liver cancer on May 27, 2017, brought Hepatitis C to the forefront again, just as in 2011, when his public service announcements began alerting people to be screened for the virus.
Like Allman, you can have Hepatitis C, a liver disease, for years without knowing it.
“Because it’s a silent disease, I think people don’t realize that it’s still doing damage to your liver,” Allman said six years before his death. “Just because you don’t feel anything doesn’t mean the virus isn’t doing anything to you. I want other people to know that doing nothing is not an option.”
Cape Cod Healthcare’s FOCUS (Frontlines of Communities in the U.S.) Program Director Nick Mazzoni, LMHC, LADC, is newly hired to help address the Hep C problem that has reached unprecedented levels on Cape Cod and the Islands.
“It is extremely important that people born between 1945 and 1965 (baby boomers) and people who have injected drugs even one time get a simple blood test to find out if they have the disease, so they can be treated,” he said.
The latest figures from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health show that the Cape and Islands have the highest Hepatitis C rates in Massachusetts among people between 15 and 29. At 461.3 per 100,000 population of confirmed and probable Hep C cases among this age group, the rate is more than double that of other counties and regions in the state.
Source: Massachusetts Department of Public Health Bureau of Infectious Disease and Laboratory Sciences Division of Epidemiology and Immunization. Hepatitis C Virus Infection Surveillance Report, 2007 – 2015. Page 28.
Hepatitis C cases increased 312 percent on the Cape and Islands from 2007 to 2015, according to data from the Massachusetts Bureau of Infectious Disease and Laboratory Sciences.
“The opioid epidemic is linked to these increases,” said Mazzoni. “Injectable equipment can be tainted with the virus, including cotton used to prepare needles and tattoo tools (if it has a trace of blood on it). People need to be aware that the disease is serious, and they need to ask their doctors for the screening blood test.”
Three-quarters of the 3.5 million Americans already living with Hepatitis C are baby boomers. They are six times more likely to be infected with Hepatitis C than those in other age groups and are at much greater risk of death from the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Many boomers contracted the virus before widespread screening of the blood supply began in 1992. Hepatitis C was also spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants, the organization notes.
The CDC advises:
- If you ever shared a needle with a drug user, you may have Hepatitis C.
- The virus is spread when blood from a person infected with the virus enters the body of someone who is not infected.
- Early symptoms: You may be extremely tired, have muscle aches, fever or loss of appetite.
- There is no vaccine for Hepatitis C, but there are treatments.
Because the virus can silently cause liver damage without any symptoms, many people don’t feel a sense of urgency to get screened, Mazzoni said.
But a simple blood test is the first step to beating the disease, he said.