Half of the estimated 85,000 people in Colorado who have Hepatitis C don’t know they’re infected. Many people don’t get tested because they – and their doctors – don’t realize they might be at risk. A Denver nonprofit is trying to raise awareness and provide support to people living with the illness.Hepatitis C can silently damage a person’s liver for years without any outward signs, said Hep C Connection executive director Nancy Steinfurth. Hep C Connection is a nonprofit organization aiming to educate the public about the disease and provide support for people who have it.
“It’s a pretty serious disease that not a lot of people know about,” she added. “It can have devastating effects on someone’s life.”
Hepatitis C is transmitted by blood-to-blood contact with an infected person’s blood and the most common way people get it is from sharing drug needles. It’s also possible to contract the disease through dirty tattoo needles, which doesn’t often happen in the U.S. because of widely used sanitary measures. Very rarely can Hepatitis C be transmitted sexually or from mother-to-child during birth.
Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver transplants in the United States. Symptoms include yellowish eyes and skin, diarrhea, joint, muscle and stomach pain and poor appetite.
While it’s widely-known that IV drug users are most at-risk, many people don’t know about other risk factors. For instance, anyone who had a blood transfusion prior to 1992 should be tested. That’s when they started testing donor blood for the virus, which wasn’t made known to the public until 1989. Sharing needles isn’t the only form of drug use that can spread Hepatitis C. Even sharing a rolled-up dollar bill to snort cocaine or other drugs is a risk factor.
“You do something once and that can be it,” Steinfurth said. “There are lots of baby boomers who don’t realize they have it.”
When people are diagnosed with the disease, Hepatitis C Connection is there to help. The staff provides information and treatment options and organizes nine support groups around the state.
“We’re not physicians but we’ve got a good deal of information,” Steinfurth said.
Her organization receives funding from private grants and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, but needs to supplement that money through community fundraisers.
On Wednesday, Nov. 14, Hep C Connection will hold its second Delights & Desserts event, which features a silent and live auction along with live music, hors d’oeuvres and desserts. Items to be auctioned include a pair of Southwest Airlines tickets and spa packages. Last year the event raised $23,000, and Steinfurth hopes to top that amount this year with the intent of expanding the event in the future.
Desserts & Delights 2007
Nov. 14, 5:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m.
The Walnut Foundry, 3002 Walnut Street, Denver, CO
Tickets are $35 apiece and $60 per couple. They can be purchased at the door or by calling Todd Haggerty at 720-917-3963