Hepatitis C: Get Tested Today
By George C. Duggins
I would like to convey to all members of the VVA
community my best wishes for Thanksgiving and for the upcoming holiday season.
In this season when we take time to give thanks for our blessings, we should
keep in mind one serious issue having to do with the health of many of us who
served in Vietnam: Hepatitis C, the blood-borne infectious disease that is being
identified in increasing numbers of Vietnam veterans.
The excellent article William Triplett wrote on
that subject in the April/May issue of The VVA Veteran pointed out that there is
a high prevalence of Hepatitis C in Southeast Asia. That strongly indicates that
many who served in Vietnam were exposed to the disease three decades ago. That's
one reason that at VVA's National Leadership Conference in Savannah in August we
offered attendees the opportunity to participate in a screening for Hepatitis C
At the conference 166 veterans took the test to
find out if they had HCV in their systems. Nineteen of them either tested
positive or "inconclusive" for the antibodies. I was among those whose test was
inconclusive. That outcome created a sense of anxiety and apprehension. Those of
us whose tests were inconclusive were informed that our blood samples would be
subjected to a more thorough testing the following week and the results would be
given to us as soon as they were available.
I know from my own experience that this anxiety
extended beyond concerns for my own health. I couldn't help thinking how the
test results affected my family. If I had the virus, was I transmitting it to
others through casual contact? What precautions would I have to take to protect
the health of my loved ones?
I know that others who received the same initial
results shared my fears. That is understandable, and I would be worried if you
weren't concerned about the effect on your families. I was lucky. My subsequent
tests proved negative for HCV. Even after re-testing, a total of fourteen
veterans tested positive for HCV.
The point of all this is that Vietnam veterans
are at very high risk for HCV, the leading cause of cirrhosis of the liver and
liver cancer, as Triplett pointed out in his article. I want to urge each of you
to contact your private physician or a VA medical clinic and ask for an HCV
test. It is a very simple procedure that requires drawing only a small vial of
If the test is positive, there are drug therapies
available that can be effective. We know this because VVA members who have HCV
have been treated successfully. In addition to the drug therapy, some life-style
changes are advisable. Alcohol consumption should be eliminated or sharply
reduced because drinking is a contributing factor to cirrhosis of the liver. Raw
sea food should be avoided as well, because of the increased chance of
contracting Hepatitis A.
If you test positive, it's a good idea to see a
service representative and file a claim with the VA. Hepatitis C has an
incubation period of twenty to thirty years. That puts our generation of
veterans squarely in the "window of opportunity" for the disease, and those who
test positive may be eligible for a service-connected disability, if they were
infected with HCV during service.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, do not look
at a positive test result as a death sentence. It is not. With proper drug
therapy and life-style changes, each of us can continue to live healthy,
productive lives for many years to come.
Nothing, perhaps, is more alarming than
uncertainty. Do yourselves and your families a favor, and get the HCV test
E-mail us at TheVeteran@vva.org