Surviving HIV, facing Hepatitis C

As liver disease surpasses virus that causes AIDS as a killer, it should be a wake-up call for LGBT people to get tested, educated about risks

Webb-DavidAfter the emergence of HIV/AIDS and the devastation it caused in the 1980s, the identification of yet another deadly virus about the same time went virtually unnoticed by the general public.

News and concern about Hepatitis C understandably took a back seat to HIV, and so the liver disease apparently grew exponentially because it was a slower killer and asymptomatic.

Spread mostly by blood-to-blood contact, HCV is now thought to infect as many as 170 million people worldwide, many or most of whom are unaware of their status because of the absence of any symptoms they are ill.

Often people do not become aware of their infection until significant damage is done to their liver, and cirrhosis or cancer develops and a transplant is necessary.

Now, more people die from HCV-related illnesses than those associated with HIV, according to a study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control that was unveiled this week.

CDC officials warn that Baby Boomers, anyone born between 1945 and 1965, should get a test to determine whether they are infected with HCV.

Federal health officials estimate that two-thirds of the people infected with HVC are in this age group, and that half are unaware of it.

Medical researchers and practitioners theorized since the 1970s that another hepatitis virus existed in addition to Hepatitis B because some patients who no longer exhibited traces of HBV in their blood continued to show similar signs of liver malfunction.

Finally, in 1989 Hepatitis C was proven to exist, and widespread testing of blood for the virus since 1997 has revealed its frightening spread.

Many people in the LGBT community were unaware of the existence of HCV and only learned about it if someone they knew was diagnosed with it or, God forbid, learned they themselves had contracted it.

After dodging the HIV bullet and vowing not to place themselves at risk of contracting it, many people no doubt were shocked to learn there was yet another virus they could have contracted through blood transfusions, shared intravenous drug use and sexual activity.

What’s worse, there are concerns that the transmission of HCV might occur more easily than HIV through unsterilized medical and dental equipment, body piercings, shared personal items such as razors, toothbrushes and manicure tools — and no telling what else.

In contrast, HIV is thought to be less easily transmitted.

The possible presence of HCV was sometimes detected in the early 1990s among patients who got annual physicals because routine blood tests revealed irregularities in liver enzymes.

Further testing to identify the cause could reveal the presence of HCV when patients were in the care of doctors who stayed abreast of the medical developments.

It became clear HCV would become a chronic infection for most people who contracted it, and that it would eventually lead to severe health problems or death.

Only a few people would contract the virus and overcome it through the body’s natural processes, as is thought to be the case with some people who are exposed to HIV.

Two people of whom I have known and were HCV-positive illustrate just how widespread the virus could ultimately be.
One individual was a gay man who was a former heavy intravenous drug-user and HIV-negative, but nonetheless a member of a high-risk group.

The other was an older married female who didn’t even drink, let alone do drugs or engage in sex with multiple partners. She would surely be considered a member of a low-risk group, and I suspect she contracted the virus in a hospital setting long before its existence was known.

There are treatments available for HCV, but they unfortunately have different levels of effectiveness among patients, are expensive and can be intolerable to some people. Both of the people I knew were unable to tolerate the treatments. The heterosexual female has died, and I have lost contact with the gay man I knew who was HCV-positive. The last time I talked to him he had been declared disabled because of his HCV infection and the damage it had done to his liver.

In both cases, the months-long treatments that included injections and oral drugs caused flu-like symptoms and severe depression. They both abandoned the treatments.
Fortunately, other people managed to survive the treatments and the combination of drugs apparently eliminated HCV from their blood.

The very fortunate discovered the infections and received the treatments before irreversible damage was done to their livers as was indicated by biopsies.

At the time the two people I knew tried the available treatments, only a combination of pegylated interferon and ribavirin was available.

Those treatments initially were prohibitively expensive, but they are considered less costly now.

Today, there are new protease inhibitors available for treatment showing promise, but the cost is astronomical.

The new drugs, Victrelis at $1,100 per week, and Incivek at $4,100 per week, must be taken for months, and they also can cause hideous side effects.

It’s an agonizing situation, but most people are willing to spend whatever it costs if they can and endure whatever pain comes along in an effort to survive. That’s why it’s so important to get tested for HCV and to determine whether treatment is needed before it’s too late.
For others who are uninfected, don’t go there in the first place. Know how HCV is spread and avoid any possibility that it can imperil your life.

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative media for three decades. Contact him at davidwaynewebb@hotmail.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 24, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

REVIEW: Erasure at House of Blues on Sunday

From AustinTownHall.com

Synth pop legends Erasure put on a healthy show to a sold-out crowd at House of Blues Sunday night with a handful of new songs from their upcoming album, Tomorrow’s World. Flanked by gargoyles and simulated stained glass, Erasure was in fine form as they churned out the hits, but perhaps the star-making turn of the night was by opener Frankmusik.

Erasure frontman Andy Bell still maintains an eccentric stage presence and he’d often strike a pose to the cheers of the audience. His backless vest tied with string was kinda hot over his fit frame and he maintained danceable energy through the setlist. Of course, Vince Clark does his quiet thing hiding behind a massive gargoyle keyboard/desk for his laptop but would occasionally pop out to play the guitar or cut Bell out of his vest to change into a bedazzled Michael Jackson T-shirt.

At times, though, the songs were way too loud and as pleasant as their pop is, the bass and Bell’s voice were simultaneously pounding and screeching. Of course, being doped up on allergy/cold medicine might have affected my perspective, but even Bell himself kept adjusting his levels. When he sang “Love to Hate You,” his vocal runs were rather painful. Through most of the concert, we stood up close, however, as we muddled through the thick crowd toward the back, the sound was much better from afar. Or at least, less throbbing.

The duo never strayed far from the original sounds of their songs, which was refreshing. I hate when veteran artists feel the need to alter their biggest hits to suit them and keep them fresh. Erasure was true to their music and as each classic opened, the audience cheered deafeningly. The band nary missed a hit and new songs fit in like a glove.

The audience, though, was a surprising one. I expected it to look like a Saturday night at Station 4, but instead, the crowd was much more straight than I would have imagined. Baby boomers and twentysomethings seemed to outnumber the gays, but it was still a friendly environment as same-sex couples freely expressed their emotion to each other. And not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Other than Bell’s glorious grandstanding at times, Erasure was reliably good. But Frankmusik, who also produced Tomorrow, killed his 30-plus minute set. The 25 year-old in his rockabilly drag took over the stage as if he was the headliner. More famous as a DJ and producer, he shone with strong vocals and an abundance of energy during his short set of dance music. Some of his mashups were laughable as his song would move into tunes like “Easy Lover” and “You Can Call Me Al.” But he has catchy tunes and his energy was far more amped up than Bell’s. Songs like “No I.D.” and “Ludicrous” show his youth, but his live delivery is something to be witnessed.

—  Rich Lopez

MetLife study on Aging Boomers reveals some disturbing stats

del martin and phyllis lyon
Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon

MetLife and American Society on Aging (ASA), which includes an appropriately named group, the LGBT Aging Issues Network (LAIN), have done a study on aging Baby Boomers.

Note to MetLife, I may be a Baby Boomer, but I’m NOT aging.

Their study, “Still Out, Still Aging: The MetLife Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Baby Boomers,” reveals some interesting similarities and some disturbing differences between the LGBT population and the population in general.

The study, which polled 1,200 LGBT individuals and 1,200 people from the general population, shows stark differences and striking similarities between the two groups with regard to attitudes, demographics and aging:

·         60% of LGBT Boomers fear being unable to care for themselves as they age; 35% fear becoming dependent on others; and 10% fear discrimination as they age.

·         Of the LGBT sample surveyed, Lesbians (76%), Gay men (74%), Bisexuals (16%) and Transgender individuals (39%) say they are “completely” or “mostly” out.  61% of Lesbians and 57% of Gay men say their families are “completely” or “very” accepting, while that is true for 24% of Bisexuals and 42% of Transgender individuals.

—  David Taffet