Hepatitis C goes undetected, leads to liver problems

MURRAY, Utah (ABC 4 Utah)- Ten thousand people in Utah have a deadly disease and don't even know it. A study by Intermountain Medical Center shows Hepatitis C is the number one reason why people need liver transplants. In our continued partnership with Intermountain Medical Center, we take a closer look at this silent killer and the treatment now available to cure it. 

"The only test I ever failed was the hepatitis," said liver transplant recipient Lisa Schumacher. 

Lisa Schumacher contracted Hepatitis C 30 years ago. She had no idea she had it because she didn't have any symptoms. 

"By the time your skin or eyes turn yellow or you have other symptoms like vomiting or blood; things that would make anyone realize they're sick those things happen very late during the course of this illness," said Intermountain Medical Center Liver Transplant Program Director Dr. Michael Charlton. 

Those signs mean it's already starting to affect your liver. 

"Scarring makes it hard for the liver to get blood through it," said Dr. Charlton. 

That's why Intermountain Medical Center Liver Transplant Program Director Dr. Michael Charlton stays take the simple test to detect Hepatitis C, especially if you fall into one of these categories: served in the armed forces, born between 1945 and 1965, or used recreational drugs. 

"You don't need a symptom and you don't need a risk factor," said Dr. Charlton. 

That may be the reason why half of the people in the US who have Hepatitis C, don't know it. 

"That was just a random thing to find out my liver levels were elevated and so there was a series of other tests and the news just kept getting worse and worse," said Schumacher. 

"Instead of this nice smooth service you have this sort of bumpy appearance to the liver," said Dr. Charlton. 

Sclerosis leads to liver cancer. So Schumacher needed a liver transplant to keep living.  But before the disease attacks your liver, you have to catch it early. And unlike treatments from the 80s and 90s, now doctors have a simple cure. 

"Now we have a treatment, one pill once a day will cure 95%," said Dr. Charlton. 

Schumacher says she'll forever be grateful for getting the gift of life. Her hope is that more people will become donors because Hepatitis C doesn't show symptoms until it's done major damage. 

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