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Pamela Anderson Cured of Hepatitis C: what You Should Know About the Virus

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Hepatitis C can be a debilitating and even fatal condition, but it can also be asymptomatic for years before it causes problems. That's why it can go entirely unnoticed for years. In fact, of the estimated 2.7 million people in the United States who have hep C, three in four don't know they're infected, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Many, many more people have never even heard of it. Below, we outline the need- to-know facts on the condition.

What exactly is Hepatitis C?
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Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that causes inflammation of the liver. In some cases, people exposed to it (more later on how that happens) can fight it off on their own. But about 75% of people exposed go on to develop chronic infection, with many ultimately developing complications like chronic liver disease, liver failure, and liver cancer. Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver transplants in the U.S.

How does Hepatitis C spread?

Like other blood-borne viruses, hepatitis C is spread through contact with infected blood. Anderson first went public with her diagnosis back in 2002, telling People in a statement at the time that she contracted it after sharing a tattoo needle with her then-husband Tommy Lee.

What makes hepatitis C so serious?

Unlike hepatitis B, another serious virus that affects the liver, there is no vaccination to prevent hepatitis C. It's also the most common blood-borne virus in the U.S., according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and it kills roughly 15,000 Americans every year.

Referred to as a silent epidemic, it's also usually symptomless, and many people who have hepatitis C may even live for years without feeling sickor may never feel effects at all, if they catch it before it advances. (The Baywatch star didn't experience symptoms: "I don't have any liver damage and I don't have any side effects," she told People in a previous interview.)

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If an infected person does have symptoms, they can include fever, vomiting, abdominal pain, joint pain, dark urine, or jaundice (a yellowing of the skin and eyes).

Then how do you know if you have it?

The only way to know for sure is to get tested. Doctors use a blood test to scan for specific chemicals that the virus releases into the bloodstream. (Follow-up tests by your doctor would be the next step.)

The CDC made a big push in 2013 to educate baby boomers about the virus, and encourage them to get tested. If you're never been tested, especially if you have risk factors like previous intravenous drug use, it can't hurt to talk to your doctor about it.

What's the connection between Hep C and HIV?

Both hepatitis C and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are blood-borne viruses that can be transmitted through injection drug use. Because of this, a high proportion of adults at risk of HIV may be at risk of infection for both diseases. According to the CDC, about a quarter of all HIV-positive people in the U.S. are "co-infected" with hepatitis C.

Can it really be cured?
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However, the pill cocktail comes at an extremely high price, which has sparked a lot of controversy. For a full course of treatment of just one of the pills alone, it costs more than $80,000.

Anderson didn't disclose the exact drug treatment that she took to clear the virus, but she did raise an important point about how few people have access to the new treatments.

Will the drugs become more accessible in the future, as Anderson suggests? The answer is unclear, although drug companies and insurance providers appear to be working tirelessly to lower prices.

Prescription-assistance programs do exist; experts generally recommend that patients speak to their doctors about financial support and medication co-pay options.

Read more on: hepatitis, daily


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