Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Wouldn't You Rather Know?

By Euclides Montes (@gatulino)

Please forgive the shortness of this post. To be entirely honest, I’ve really been struggling to write it. I wasn’t sure whether to write a serious note or instead approach the question that’s got me pondering this week in a light-hearted way. In fact, I over thought it so much that at some point I even tried to write a poem! Thankfully for all of us, I remembered very quickly that, erm, I can’t write poetry.

This 19th of May is World Hepatitis Awareness Day and the reason that I’m finding this post a bit difficult to write is because this day is quite important to me. You see, I am Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C positive. I’ve had these two viruses affecting my life for over 13 years now. Half as long as I’ve been alive in fact! But that’s not really the point of this post. The reason I bring it up is because when I was first diagnosed, all those years ago, I underwent treatment for my illness and as far as I was aware, I cleared the viruses. A misdiagnosis that meant that for a whole decade I walked around completely unaware that these destructive illnesses were attacking my liver on a daily basis.

And that’s the problem with Hepatitis. By and large, it’s a very silent killer. It can go unnoticed for years and when left untreated, it can lead to very serious liver damage. It is estimated that at least 500 million people are infected worldwide by hepatitis, the disease costing the lives of over 1 million people every year. To put that in stark terms, one in twelve of us have a positive status, whether we know it or not. Even more worryingingly, some estimates suggest that one in every three health professionals in the western world might actually be affected by the disease. To give you my final fact of the post, that means that 3 times more people are infected by Hepatitis than HIV/AIDS, and yet public awareness of the risks is almost non-existent. And that’s where my ponder lies. Why aren’t talking about it more? Why is it that one of the biggest killers in our society doesn’t get the attention it deserves?

This lack of spotlight on the issue means that governments across the globe have neglected to fund research into cures for these diseases. Or even worse in my opinion, normal folk, like you and me, don’t know much about the disease. Something as innocent as sharing a toothbrush with someone affected by Hep C can mean that you have contracted this disease and what’s worse, you won’t even know it for years. Perhaps until it’s too late. I believe that’s definitely something worth talking about.

So please allow me to use this post to invite everyone to find out more about the risks hepatitis poses and if you think you might have been exposed to the viruses in any way, please get tested!

After all, in the words of a very bad poet:

With the stakes so high and the effort so low
I really have to ponder, wouldn’t you rather know?


  1. Rachel Surtees19 May 2010 at 16:56

    Wonderful piece, thanks Euclides. It's a real worry what we're going to do when public awareness finally does catch up with Hep's progress and we realise that a third of health professional may be positive. The more noise we can create around this the more lives we save.

  2. Great post Euclides. Can't believe how widespread hep is without the public awareness or research funding to go with. Shocker..

  3. Brilliant post Euclides. Just to add....the more noise we make about this silent killer the more likely pharmaceutical companies are to put money and resources into researching and developing effective cures which at the moment are sadly lacking. Thanks.

  4. Yes Euclides there is a woefully lack of knowledge but lets not forget that some practioners are working hard to find solutions. Professor Dusheiko based at the Royal Free hospital works in both Britain and developing countries investigating Hep B and C.
    Check out his website.

    And on the other hand there are some NHS staff working on hospital wards, dealing with hepatitis positive people on a daily basis who have no conception of what that means for the person or themselves. Typically their first assumption is that the person with Hep B/C is or was a drug abuser and a certain restrained, untouchable approach is thus adopted.

    For pregnant Hep C women, lack of knowledge informs most of the information given to those who wish to breastfeed, usually revolving around their viral load volumes only, leaving women and their babies open to potential danger.

    We all need to be aware, informed and insistant that hepatitis is eliminated.