Comedian urges Canadians to get hepatitis C test
Published Saturday, July 28, 2012 5:38PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, July 28, 2012 10:02PM EDT
As people around the globe marked World Hepatitis Day on Saturday, a unique awareness campaign was underway in Canada.
Mike MacDonald, a Canadian comedian living with hepatitis C, is continuing to speak out in the hope he can convince others to get tested for the potentially debilitating liver disease.
MacDonald discovered he was infected with the virus 18 months ago, when tests revealed it had already virtually destroyed his liver. His experience was not unique, as the disease can ravage one’s body for years before its symptoms become noticeable.
Indeed, MacDonald said his only symptoms prior to his diagnosis were strange ones.
“I started to slur my speech. I started to trip over things. I dropped the occasional glass (or) plate, which is very unusual,” he told CTV’s health specialist Avis Favaro.
The comedian still isn’t sure how he got hepatitis C – a disease commonly transmitted through infected blood, needles, sexual activity and drug use – but instead of being ashamed or trying to hide the fact that he has it, MacDonald is speaking up to urgently warn others about the virus's devastating effects.
‘’I feel I have a responsibility to at least educate people not to go through the same situation I do,’’ he told CTV News.
An estimated 250,000 Canadians are currently infected with hepatitis C. Approximately 21 per cent of those individuals are undiagnosed and unaware of the infection. About 3,200 to 5,000 individuals are newly infected each year. The complications of untreated hepatitis C can be severe and may lead to liver fibrosis, cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver failure which is likely to be fatal unless a transplant is performed.
Doctors say MacDonald is offering an important public service by talking about the disease in public.
“It means a lot because one of the problems with hep. C is the stigma. People are afraid to declare themselves as having hepatitis C and so you have less knowledge about what the disease entails and what can be done about it,” said Dr. Morris Sherman, Chairman of the Canadian Liver Foundation, Hepatologist and Associate Professor of Medicine, University of Toronto.
‘’When someone who is prominent stands up and says ‘I have hepatitis C, I'm not ashamed of it, there's no stigma to it,’ that's very important."
The goal is to encourage more people to get a blood test. The earlier it's treated, the more likely drugs will kill the virus.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control made a recommendation in May that all baby boomers born between 1945-65 should be tested for hepatitis C. There is a higher prevalence of infections among that age group.
Shermansaid no such recommendation has been made by Canadian health officials.
“But here’s the thing,” he said. “You’ve got a disease that, untreated, is going to be fatal. You have a treatment, which is good and getting better. To me it's a no brainer (to get tested).
“We know if you only test people who you can identify a risk factor in, you’re going to miss half the people.”
Shermansaid that 70 per cent of people with hepatitis C survive. In three to five years time, he said the survival rate will be closer to 100 per cent.
Mike MacDonald now knows that earlier diagnosis is better for recovery and getting tested is essential.
“You know it is a simple blood test… It’s stupid not to take it.”
MacDonald's now waiting to find out if he's well enough to withstand a liver transplant.
And in the meantime, the comic is surviving on donations. Edmonton standup comic Chris Heward has joined with fellow comedians Matt Billon and Brittany Anastacio to set up an account on website gofundme.com, which has raised more than $40,000 and counting.
It’s not the first time MacDonald has bared his private life, talking openly about his struggles with bipolar disorder and working for events like Stand Up for Mental Health.
Based on a report from CTV medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip