NEW YORK -- Christopher Kennedy Lawford today announced his new role in helping to educate America about hepatitis C, a silent viral infection of the liver that affects an estimated 4 million Americans -- 70 percent of whom are unaware of their disease. Lawford, an accomplished author/actor and nephew of President John F. Kennedy, is sharing his experience in being diagnosed and successfully treated for hepatitis C as part of a national education campaign called Hep C STAT! (Stop, Test And Treat). The campaign encourages individuals to stop and consider their own risk factors for hepatitis C, get tested, and if infected, talk with a liver specialist about available treatment options.
"Many in my generation who engaged in adventuresome behaviors, perhaps 20 years ago and maybe even just once -- having put their past behind -- may not know that these activities leave them at risk for hepatitis C today. Until my diagnosis, I was one of these people," said Lawford. "After the initial shock of this news, I decided to fight back. Now, four years after successfully completing treatment, there is still no trace of the virus in my blood."
Hepatitis C is the most common chronic, bloodborne viral infection in the United States -- four times more prevalent than HIV. Known as a "silent disease," hepatitis C often has few, if any, signs or symptoms before causing significant liver damage. Combination therapy with pegylated interferon and ribavirin, the standard of care treatment today, has been shown in clinical trials to achieve treatment success in approximately half of patients. (Response to treatment may vary based on individual factors, such as genotype, viral load and race.) There is no vaccine for hepatitis C.
"As a research scientist and hepatitis C-treating physician, I see firsthand the devastating impact of this disease -- from rising caseloads of cirrhosis and liver cancer to an ever-growing wait list for liver transplants," said Dr. Donald Jensen, professor of medicine and director of the Center for Liver Diseases at the University of Chicago Hospital in Chicago. "It is my hope that this campaign will increase awareness of the risk factors for hepatitis C, and prompt infected patients to seek a referral to a liver specialist -- such as a hepatologist or gastroenterologist -- to have a conversation about whether treatment is medically appropriate."
The Web site http://www.HepCSTAT.com is being made available for individuals to learn more about risk factors associated with hepatitis C infection, information on testing, and the importance of treatment. The campaign and Web site are sponsored by Roche, as part of its commitment to improving the diagnosis, treatment and public awareness of hepatitis C.
The following activities may put individuals at risk for hepatitis C infection:
-- blood transfusions or major surgery in the U.S. prior to 1992;
-- illicit injection drug use;
-- healthcare workers or other professionals' occupational accidents (war
veterans, particularly those who served in Vietnam, are recognized to
be at higher risk);
-- needlestick accidents among healthcare workers;
-- intranasal drug use through the sharing of straws or other instruments;
-- tattoos in unsanitary conditions;
-- sharing certain personal care items (razors, toothbrushes, nail
clippers or nail files); or
-- blood-to-blood contact during sexual activity.
"One in five people has something in their past that puts them at risk for hepatitis C. If you have a risk factor, it doesn't matter which one -- get tested," added Lawford.
Initial diagnosis of hepatitis C is usually determined with a simple blood test, available through most primary healthcare providers. Routine blood tests and yearly physicals, however, typically do not include screening for hepatitis C virus.
Newer diagnostic technologies, referred to as molecular tests, offer highly sensitive and specific diagnosis of active hepatitis C infection by directly detecting the virus in the blood, rather than the detection of an immune response offered by more traditional test methods. Molecular tests are also used to quantify the amount of virus in the blood (referred to as "viral load" testing), a widely used measure of the effectiveness of treatment in reducing virus levels in the body.