U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson announced this month that he has struggled with hepatitis C, a serious liver virus, for more than a decade.
“Over the past year, I have been on a robust course of treatment for hepatitis C, a virus that affects more than four million Americans,” Johnson, D-GA-04, said in a statement released Dec. 7. “I am pleased to announce that my therapy is progressing well. My physician is encouraged by my response to treatment and expects complete success eradicating the virus.”
Hepatitis C has no vaccine and does not show symptoms until it has caused advanced liver damage. Johnson said he does not know how he contracted the disease, which can be transmitted through blood transfusions and needle use, among other ways. He discovered he had the disease in 1998, said Andy Phelan, a Johnson spokesman.
The congressman has been undergoing treatments at Walter Reed Army Medical Center with a combination of interferon and ribavirin, which have caused negative side effects, Phelan said. The treatment, which ends in February, has caused thyroid issues and depression for which Johnson is also being treated.
“He’s slowed down not because of the virus but because of the treatment,” Phelan said.
Regardless, he said, Johnson’s situation is “not dire.”
Johnson’s physician at Walter Reed also released a statement.
“Congressman Johnson can be an inspiration to thousands of people who suffer from this illness. He has been a model patient, sticking with his course of treatment even when it was most difficult,” Dr. Maria Sjogren said. “His determination shows that people suffering from hepatitis can live normal lives and continue to be productive citizens.”
Johnson is up for reelection in 2010. At least two Republicans have announced their intentions to challenge him. Phelan said Johnson’s hepatitis will not change the campaign’s approach.
In his statement, Johnson said he wants to become an advocate for hepatitis C victims.
“More than half the people who have hepatitis C don’t know how or when they contracted it. And many are fearful of the treatment regimen that impacts your life in unusual ways,” Johnson said. “Having come through a long course of treatment, I want to send a strong message that a cure is possible but you must be tested and treated.”