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Natalie Cole and Hepatitis C

How would your life have turned out if you:
• were the daughter of music legend Nat King Cole and famous singer Maria Hawkins Ellington,
• were raised in the affluent Hancock Park district of Los Angeles,
• were surrounded by incredible wealth (in a family called "the black Kennedys"),
• socialized with entertainers, politicians, and other famous people,
• had your first successful album at age six and sang in major concert halls throughout the U.S. by age eleven
• been sexually molested in early life, and
• lost your famous father to lung cancer when you were 15?

Her Life Story
Natalie Cole responded to her environment by becoming a world-famous singer who won multiple Grammy Awards and had more than 30 million of her records sold worldwide. She started to use drugs while a student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, was arrested for using heroin at age 25 in Toronto, and at age 33, after her son Robert almost drowned in the family pool while she was out cold on drugs, she started a heroin rehabilitation program. She said that from then on she avoided recreational drugs, led a sober and healthful life, became a "workout fanatic", toured the world, made many hit records and won Grammy Awards.

At age 58, she was feeling rotten and her doctor diagnosed from a blood test that she was infected with hepatitis C from injecting drugs 25 years before. She had to inject an antiviral drug called Ribavirin into her thighs weekly for 48 weeks. She was so sick that she often couldn't get out of bed and lost a lot of weight, yet she continued touring. She was once so weak from dehydration that she had to be given intravenous fluids in order to perform in Tokyo. The drug also caused her hair to fall out. She was married and divorced three times, but in her late fifties and feeling miserable all the time, she was not in a relationship. She told reporters that "dating is the last thing on my mind".
At age 61 she lost her sister and best friend, Cookie, and at age 64, she lost her mother.

The hepatitis C virus and its consequences destroyed her kidneys, requiring a kidney transplant at age 59, and also damaged her heart to cause the congestive heart failure that killed her at age 65.

How Do You get Hepatitis C (HCV)?
Hepatitis C is a virus that can damage your liver and every other organ in your body. It is usually spread through blood from infected people and far less often by infected semen. It is not spread by coughing, sneezing, or just being around a person with HCV and it is not spread through breast milk.

It can be acquired through:
* intravenous drug use (contaminated needles)
* receiving contaminated blood products
* getting body piercing or tattoos from instruments that have not been properly sterilized
* in health care workers, being accidentally stuck by infected needles
* far less frequently, from sexual contact or sharing personal items such as razors or toothbrushes that contain infected blood,
* rarely, being born from an infected mother.

How Common is HCV?
More than 450,000 people die from HCV-related complications each year. That is more people than die from AIDS. More than 3.5 million people in the U.S. now live with chronic HCV, as do more than 150 million people around the world. It is more common in Central and East Asia and Northern Africa. Other hepatitis viruses cause chronic disease in hundreds of millions of people around the world.

What are the Symptoms of HCV?
Almost 80 percent of people will have no symptoms at all when they are first infected with hepatitis C and some will be infected with hepatitis C for years and not have any symptoms, but most infected people will develop some symptoms one to three months after becoming infected:
* yellowing skin and eyes (jaundice)
* dark urine
* light-colored stools
* nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and discomfort
* loss of appetite
* extreme tiredness and weakness

What Will Happen If You Are Infected with HCV?
Most people do not even know that they have this disease. Many people have HCV for more than 15 years without being diagnosed. The only way that you can find out if you have it is to get a blood test for HCV. If the test shows that you have been exposed to the virus, check with your doctor. If you are infected with HCV, you have a
* 15–45 percent chance of getting better without treatment in six months, but you will have a
* 60–70 percent chance of developing chronic liver disease. Some will have no symptoms.
* 55–85 percent of those infected will develop chronic HCV infection, of which .
* 15-30 percent will develop permanent liver damage called cirrhosis in 20 years and
* 1 to 5 percent will die from liver damage or cancer

If You Have HCV
Treatment with antiviral medications can cure HCV and reduce risk for cirrhosis and liver cancer. More than 60 percent of people treated with antiviral medication get better. The earlier you start treatment, the more likely you are to feel better.

You should also
* Avoid alcohol completely
* Always ask your doctor if the medication he is prescribing can damage your liver
* Do not take any over-the-counter pills, including dietary supplements, until you have checked whether they can harm your liver.
* Your doctor should check you for hepatitis A and B and you should ask him if you need to be vaccinated against these viruses.
* You need frequent liver function tests.
* Cover all scrapes and cuts.
* Never share your toothbrush or nail clippers.
* Do not donate blood or semen.
* Tell all health care workers that you have HCV
* Ask your doctor about sexual contacts

More Facts About Hepatitis C
* 25 percent of people with HIV also have Hepatitis C virus.
* 2 to 10 percent of people with HCV also have Hepatitis B virus.
* Hepatitis C is the most common cause of death from liver disease.

Natalie Cole
February 6, 1950 – December 31, 2015

January 10th, 2016
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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