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- If I have Hepatitis C, could I get life insurance?
- February 28, 2013 2:02 AM
Hepatitis C (HEP C, HCV) has surpassed HIV when it comes to fatality rates of adults, according to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One reason is because a smaller amount of blood is needed to infect a person with HCV than HIV.
“The virus can spread whenever there is blood-to-blood contact between an infected person and non-infected person,” says Dr. Leopoldo Arosemena, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Miami and liver disease specialist. “A minimal amount of blood is necessary for transmission of the virus.”
Arosemena adds that even people who were given medication through injections from boiled needles had a chance of becoming infected with the virus.
“Those needles and other sharp objects in similar situations did not have any visible blood,” says Arosemena.
HEP C is a deadly virus that infects and damages the liver, resulting in a number of diseases including cirrhosis, liver cancer and acute liver failure that can lead, in its most critical stages, to a liver transplant. According to a recent study by the CDC, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, members of the baby boomer generation (people between the ages of 47 to 67) are at a higher risk of getting HEP C.
“Baby boomers are disproportionately affected by HCV in the U.S. and many of them were infected decades ago,” says Jennifer Ruth Horvath, spokesperson for the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention at the CDC. “The reason why this group has high rates of infection is not completely understood. Many baby boomers have become infected from contaminated blood and blood products before universal precautions were adopted and widespread screening of blood supplies began in 1992.”
Horvath adds that some baby boomers became infected due to experimentation with drug use, but it isn’t the only common mode of transmission.
“Reaching the baby boomer population with screening is critical to slowing and stopping the serious health consequences already taking place,” says Horvath.
While the dangers of hepatitis have been in the news for years, it should not prevent someone who has been diagnosed with the virus from buying life insurance. Unlike HIV, most life insurers will cover policyholders with hepatitis including those with HCV but it is dependent on several criteria, says Craig Davidson, Medical Director for The Hartford.
“We would check the person’s medical history and look for elevated liver function,” says Davidson. “Once it is determined that they have Hepatitis C, we would determine how long they’ve had it and how they got it.”
What might be revealed in the person’s medical history is that they may have indulged in risky sexual behavior when they were younger, or that they were involved in a major car accident that required a blood transfusion. Other telltale signs include a history of IV drug use or the person is a healthcare worker or someone who handles blood in their profession.
Davidson says like most blood-borne viruses, HEP C commonly shows up in a standard blood test. In a case where the person doesn’t know they have it, they might go to the doctor feeling ill with the flu and it may be found in the lab work or the person decides to give blood and since blood is screened so closely, they might learn they have it that way. Also, a routine blood test is given to people applying for life insurance and the antibodies might be revealed then. Medical experts say it takes up to 10 years of more for an HCV-infection to show up in a liver function test.
It is estimated that of the 4.1 million adults in the United States who have tested positive for HCV antibodies, 3.2 million of them have a chronic HCV or Chronic hepatitis C (CHC) genotype 1. What’s worse, the CDC found that 50 to 75 percent of people infected with HCV have no idea they are living with the disease.
“I think the prevalence is as high as it is because Chronic Hepatitis C is a “silent disease” in that symptoms often do not appear for years,” says Arosemena. “Approximately 70 to 80 percent of people newly infected with the chronic HCV do not have any symptoms. Many are surprised by the diagnosis. Often, I have to take a very detailed history to retrospectively find any potential risk factors and estimate the length of the infection.”
HCV has become so prevalent that it spawned a national public health campaign “Tune Into Hep C” and its slogan “Doing nothing is not an option; talk to your doctor” is sponsored by the American Liver Foundation and pharmaceutical company Merck whose mission is to spread awareness about chronic HEP C and promote treatment and prevention of the viral infection.
The campaign highlights the personal stories of those who have struggled with the illness or have loved ones who have been impacted by Hepatitis C, including three Grammy winners: singer songwriter Natalie Cole, music legend Greg Allman and recording artist and songwriter Jon Secada.
Allman had taken a routine physical after complaining to his doctor that he had no energy and once he received the blood results he learned that he tested positive for HEP C. After failed treatment he had a liver transplant. Cole, found out she had HEP C in much the same way, during a routine blood test in 2008.
Cole wrote about her illness in her memoir “Love Brought Me Back” which was published in 2010. Like Allman, Cole also had to have a liver transplant. Secada lost his father, Jose, to chronic HEP C because he did not seek treatment and kept his ordeal with the disease a secret from his family. The disease was so advanced that his father died of complications associated with HEP C.
“The perceived stigma associated with chronic Hepatitis C continues to be a barrier that seems to prevent patients from speaking with their doctors about the disease,” says Arosemena. “I believe in general that stigma stems from a misunderstanding or lack of awareness. Some people acquired the virus by using intravenous drugs, inhaling cocaine and so on. I think that this leads to improper generalization since a great percentage of the infected patients never used recreational drugs.”Pages: 1 2
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