Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that causes inflammation of the liver. Although hepatitis C can sometimes go away on its own, about 75% to 85% of people who have been exposed to the virus eventually develop chronic hepatitis C, a liver infection that affects between 3 million to 4 million people in the United States.
Hepatitis C is often referred to as a "silent" disease because it may not cause any noticeable symptoms, making diagnosis difficult. Left untreated, however, it can lead to serious complications, including liver scarring, liver cancer, or liver failure. Here, seven public figures who have spoken out about what it's like to live with hepatitis C.
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In 2002, Baywatch star Pamela Anderson revealed to People that she had hepatitis C, which she said she contracted by sharing a tattoo needle with then-husband Tommy Lee. But in 2015, Anderson took to Instagram to announce she had been cured after starting a new drug regimen.
Although the actress and activist said she hadn’t experienced any symptoms or liver damage, hepatitis C still took a toll.
"I always felt this little dark cloud hanging over me," Anderson told People in 2015 about her years living with the virus. "I think anyone struggling with a disease that they say you can live with is still—it plays into a lot of decisions in your life."
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Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler told Access Hollywood in 2006 that he had been dealing with hepatitis C for the past three years. His doctor put him on 11 months of chemotherapy for the liver infection, which Tyler says "about killed me."
"I would run upstairs at night, you know, to put the kids asleep and wake up at 3 in the morning with a nosebleed you know, just passed out from the interferon, the treatment," he said.
Tyler told Access Hollywood he’s since been cured of hepatitis C. "The good news is I stood the test of time," he said.
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Now known for her role in the popular Netflix series Orange Is the New Black, actress Natasha Lyonne was admitted into an intensive-care unit in 2005 for hepatitis C and other health problems, including drug addiction.
The actress has since recovered from her addiction and says she's been cured of hepatitis C, as well. "Luckily I’m in the clear and my health is in great shape now," she told Yahoo! Style in 2015.
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Country singer Naomi Judd was on tour in 1989 when she began experiencing headaches, nausea, and muscle aches.
"One time while trying to load my suitcase onto the tour bus, I collapsed in the heat," she wrote in a personal essay for Everyday Health in 2014. "I knew that something was really wrong with me.”
Judd was told she had "non-A, non-B" hepatitis (hepatitis C had yet to receive its own title). The singer wrote that she believes she contracted the disease during her time working as a registered nurse.
In 1995, after years of treatment, Judd's doctor told her she was cured. The experience inspired her to become a vocal advocate for hepatitis C awareness. "It gave me a new purpose for my life," she said. "I was dismayed that so few people understood hepatitis C."
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Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh was diagnosed with hepatitis C in 1992.
"They said, ‘We don’t know how long this process is gonna take before you’re too sick to move but you’re going to need a liver,’" the musician recounted to Relix magazine in 2002. Six years after his diagnosis, Lesh received a successful liver transplant after experiencing liver scarring as a result of the infection. Since then, he has become an advocate for hepatitis C awareness and organ donation programs.
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Former Beach Boy musician David Marks didn’t have any symptoms of hepatitis C, and only found out he had the liver infection after visiting the doctor for a cracked rib in 1999.
"I tell people a broken rib saved my life, otherwise I might not have found out I had hepatitis C until it was too late," Marks told the BBC in 2008.
Marks says he was found to be virus-free six months after his diagnosis. "I don't know exactly how I got hepatitis C," he told the BBC. "I have been exposed to multiple risk factors, including indiscriminate experimentation with drugs in the early 1970s."
However, the musician added that he hopes to "break the stereotype" that hepatitis C can only be caused by drug use.
"Drug use is not the only way of getting hepatitis C," he said. "In most cases people can't pinpoint how they got it. I know soccer moms who have hepatitis C, and can't remember ever being exposed to any risk factors."
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After one of his concerts in 1994, Crosby Stills and Nash musician David Crosby was rushed to the hospital, diagnosed with hepatitis C, and told that he would likely die unless he received a liver transplant. Luckily, he successfully received a liver transplant a few months after the hospital visit.
"Now I’m a very healthy guy," Crosby told the Washington Post in 2014. "I am an incredibly lucky human being."