Commentary: Become Aware, Get Tested During Hepatitis C Awareness Week

Photo from Home Access.

Photo from Home Access.

By Armond S. Robinson

At its meeting on Feb.18, the Oakland City Council passed a resolution declaring March 8-15 Hepatitis C Awareness Week, calling on residents to learn about the risk factors for this preventable disease and to participate in Citywide education events.

This week of awareness is a part of a larger “Hep C Free Oakland” campaign initiated by the OASIS Clinic, an Oakland clinic dedicated to reducing the scope and consequences of hepatitis C in our communities.

In the U.S., nearly 5 million people have been exposed to Hepatitis C but the majority are unaware of their infection. Here in Oakland, a disproportionate number are people of color. I am one of those people.

At 62, knowing that Black men are at higher risk for colon cancer, I made an appointment with a primary care physician to get an overdue colonoscopy referral. My doctor also ordered several blood tests, one of which, fortunately, was for hepatitis C.

I had no symptoms of infection; she simply followed recommendations that all baby boomers should be tested.

Hepatitis C is called the silent killer for a good reason: had I not gotten that screening test, I would be walking around today, completely ignorant of my infection. The symptoms of Hep C are usually vague, such as fatigue, fever, joint and muscle aches, but even with minimal symptoms Hep C can lead to severe liver problems such as cirrhosis or even worse, cancer.

After learning my status, I sought treatment, and multiple follow up tests have shown that my virus is gone: I am cured. It is remarkable how few people know that the majority of people who get treated for Hep C can be cured.

In the past, Hep C treatment was difficult, but newer treatments are shorter and the drugs have fewer side effects. Hep C medications are improving rapidly, and cure rates are getting higher. There is hope, and it abounds.

But you probably won’t know you have it unless you are tested. And you should get tested if you could ever have come in intimate contact with someone else’s blood, or if you were born between the years of 1945 and 1965. Nowadays, the test just takes a fingerstick and 20 minutes. That’s not asking much, for an investment that could save your life.

Hep C Awareness Week will take place in Oakland on March 8- 15. There will be literature, education and testing at clinics and medical facilities throughout the city.

The OASIS Clinic, located at 520 27th St., Oakland, will offer free rapid testing from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., Monday through Friday of Awareness Week; you can find out your status right then and there and get all the information you need.

The week will culminate with a march around Lake Merritt beginning at 11 a.m. on Saturday, March 15, starting from Snow Park at 19th and Harrison. Testing will also be available there. So, be safe and get tested.

Come out, join the walk, and help yourself and others get and stay healthy.

 

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