The First Step to Help Fight Hepatitis C

Connie Welch, a middle-aged mother of two who spends her days wrangling sheep on her family’s farm in Texas, knows firsthand about living with hepatitis C (HCV). She contracted HCV, a virus transmitted through contact with the blood of an infected person, in an unexpected way.

Connie's story began in 1992 after she had foot surgery. Weeks after her procedure, she began feeling ill and was low on energy. She soon learned from her doctor that her fatigue was not just from her surgery. Connie had contracted hepatitis C from a contaminated needle used during the course of her procedure.

“When you’re busy and you become weak or tired, you tend to blow it off. I had children and I worked—I didn’t really know about HCV,” remembered Connie.

To help diagnose and monitor her treatment of HCV, genotype 1, her doctor ordered a series of hepatitis tests, including an antibody test, several viral load tests, a genotype test and liver biopsy. In addition, doctors realized Connie also had an autoimmune disorder, which would make fighting HCV more difficult.

Connie did not give up hope even when treatments weren’t working and the HCV became chronic. In addition to trying various treatment methods, she turned to her faith for strength and support. She began a blog offering words of inspiration and hope to others who, like her, were battling HCV.

By the summer of 2011, Connie became critically ill. Her liver enzymes were dangerously high. Her doctor informed her about a new drug which was recently approved by the FDA. In April 2012, Connie began the new treatment and within the first four weeks the virus became undetectable. Her physician monitored her post treatment with blood tests every six months and gave Connie a new diagnosis—hepatitis C cured.

Now, more than two years later, Connie is living HCV-free thanks to new testing methods and therapies used by her doctor to tailor her treatment.

A number of people don’t know they’re living with HCV
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 150 million people are chronically infected with hepatitis C and approximately 80 percent of people have no symptoms after initial infection. Presently, people who share or have been exposed to contaminated needles have the highest risk of being infected with the hepatitis C virus.1

Testing is the first step in HCV treatment
Getting tested is the first step to diagnosing hepatitis C and can put a patient on the right path to receive appropriate personalized treatment. Here are some steps that a physician may take to help in the diagnosis of HCV:

  1. A physician will order a simple blood test called an antibody test. Antibodies are proteins produced by the body’s immune system when it detects harmful substances such as bacteria or viruses.2
  2. Next, physicians will order another test, an HCV “viral load” test to measure and monitor the amount of HCV in the blood. Viral load tests can also help doctors gauge how well antiviral therapy is working or even determine if the virus has been successfully cleared from the body.
  3. If a positive diagnosis is made, a physician will want to understand the type of HCV present according to the genetic makeup of the virus, or genotype. Genotype tests can help identify the specific strain of the virus, to help doctors determine an appropriate treatment plan.

For Connie, she says, “with more awareness, education, testing and better access to treatment, I hope more and more people will see a future without hepatitis C.”

On World Hepatitis Day, July 28, please consider:

  • Asking a doctor or nurse about getting tested for hepatitis C
  • If found HCV positive, ask for a follow-up genotype test. Genotype tests can help physicians gain an understanding of a patient’s HCV type, and can help healthcare professionals in determining the appropriate type of treatment.
  • Encouraging any friends and family born from 1945-1965 to ask their doctor about testing for hepatitis C.

For more information:

  • Click here to learn more about hepatitis C, testing for the disease, and who is at risk
  • Click here to read how personalized treatments are changing the way hepatitis C patients are treated
  • Click here to learn about World Hepatitis Day on the World Health Organization (WHO) website