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

‘The Lady’ exhibit at Bath House Cultural Center

Who’s that lady of the lake?

You know those stories of driving in the White Rock Lake area and seeing a mysterious drenched lady. She needs a ride, sits in the back seat and then disappears leaving only a puddle ruining your fine upholstery. The story is legend in Dallas and for whatever reason, is still creepy. The urban legend is turned into art in The Lady, where artists depict in various ways their take on the legend of the woman who drowned in the lake years ago. Real or not, it’s a spooky slice of Dallas history retold in art form — and perfect for getting in the Halloween mood.

DEETS: Bath House Cultural Center, 521 E. Lawther Drive. Through Jan. 28. Free. BathHouseCultural.com.

—  Rich Lopez

Gay marriage repeal not on agenda in N.H.

Despite the e-mail we mentioned earlier from HRC, a proposed repeal of same-sex marriage is officially not on the agenda for Republican state lawmakers in New Hampshire, The Associated Press reports:

House Republican Leader D.J. Bettencourt confirmed to The Associated Press on Wednesday that jobs and the economy will be the top priorities on an agenda to be announced Thursday. Bettencourt says there’s widespread agreement that social issues will have to take a back seat.

It’s good to see that in at least one state — thus far anyway — Republicans who rode November’s tsunami appear to be living up to their commitment to focus on fiscal issues.

—  John Wright

Dallas police report aggravated robbery at gunpoint in Oak Lawn late Sunday night

This just in from the Dallas Police Department:

Aggravated Robbery – Gun Point – 2900 Oak Lawn

Agg. Robbery occurred 9-26-10 @ 2900 Oak Lawn 11:00 p.m. Suspect forced the complainant into the complainant’s vehicle. Suspect entered the back seat and forced the complainant to drive to an ATM. Suspect struck complainant in the head with the gun and after several ATM attempts $20 was taken. Suspect exited the vehicle at Hall and Central Expwy.

Suspect:
B/M/40
220 Lbs.
5’5″
Scar Under Right Eye
Wearing white shirt, blue jeans, black hat

Contact
Emergency: 9-1-1
Non-emergencies: 214-671-4071

—  John Wright

Gov. Rick Perry links job creation, gay marriage

We’ve commented here repeatedly about how Texas Republicans — and most notably Gov. Rick Perry — have been largely avoiding LGBT issues so far this election cycle. But obviously Perry hasn’t completely forgotten about same-sex marriage, the issue he rode to re-election in 2006.

The Texas Tribune’s Ross Ramsey, who followed Perry during a day of campaigning last week, reports that the incumbent is still willing to gay-bait, only now he’s picking his spots — like barbecue restaurants in Temple. Or who knows, maybe Perry has just been saving it all for the stretch run.

In any case, Perry is also keeping his anti-gay rhetoric current, as he’s now linking same-sex marriage to job creation. We’ve bolded Perry’s quotation in this passage from the Tribune:

Social issues might be in the back seat, but they’re still in the car: “There is still a land of opportunity, friends — it’s called Texas,” Perry said. “We’re creating more jobs than any other state in the nation. … Would you rather live in a state like this, or in a state where a man can marry a man?”

So there you have it, folks. If you want to live in a state where a man can marry a man, you’ll have to sacrifice job creation. Never mind those studies showing the economic benefits of legalizing same-sex marriage. If you ask Perry, gays are probably to blame for the recession!

—  John Wright