"Breaking the Silence" summit addresses Hepatitis C threat

FRESNO, Calif.

A critical health care concern in the Valley is growing to the point where doctors and other medical workers are coming together to find a solution. The hepatitis C is becoming of concern in the Valley where it can take a year away from the patient's life. A health summit at Fresno State demonstrated what the public needs to know about this growing health threat.

Fred Lomelin of Fresno has a mission to help others, after he believes his former lifestyle made him susceptible to the virus, hepatitis-C. In 1991, little was known about the disease. "I had no idea what it was and when I went to the doctors they really didn't know too much, whether I could pass it on, but they told me what could have happened, because of my drug use in the past." Fred became a substance abuse counselor and came to a summit on the devastating disease, hosted by Fresno State.

At least 100 other health care providers came to learn more about the disease. Fresno State professor, Dr. John Capitman, says the disease is a silent epidemic. As many as 100,000 people in the Central Valley may have it and not even know it. And it's growing -- especially among aging baby boomers.

Dr. Capitman said patients can lose up to 10 years of life. "As many as 17% of people born during the baby boom may have this condition, so it's a lot of people and most people as many as 70% of the people who have the condition are undiagnosed."

Other people at risk include intravenous drug users, prison inmates, and people who get tattoos. Medical experts believe, since the state's prison realignment system which releases inmates back into the community, there will be a spike in hepatitis c cases. "There is going to be a greater chance of transmission in the community and just a greater burden on our communities in caring for this condition," said Dr. Capitman.

The summit is called "Breaking the Silence," and part of it addresses the shame hepatitis-c patients may deal with as they fight the disease. But, Fred Lomelin is wants to tell his story, to help others who are going through the same thing. "If I can help somebody and give them more insight into what they're going through."

Fred said that he is healthy now and wants to show others, they can survive and thrive with the illness.

Health care providers in the Valley try to find bring a growing disease, out of the shadows. One of the biggest challenges in fighting hepatitis-c is the treatment, which is expensive and can cost up to 40-thousand-dollars.

Copyright © 2021 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.