It’s been 10 years since ‘Baywatch’ star Pamela Anderson — famous for her stunning body and for being a favorite Playmate in the 1990s first disclosed that she has hepatitis C — contracted from sharing a tattoo needle with her ex-husband, rock star Tommy Lee.
A lot of nasty things and snide comments have been said since about the Canadian-American Hollywood actress, but the fact is, her life since her tragic disclosure is proof that people can still live a full life, even with this serious liver disease.
What is hepatitis C?
Caused by a virus that infects the liver, Hepatitis C can lead to permanent liver damage as well as cirrhosis, liver cancer — and eventually, liver failure.
A very small number of people who have symptoms during the first five to 12 weeks get nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, fatigue, pain over the liver, jaundice and dark-colored urine. But mostly, while the disease silently does damages to their livers, 80 percent of people with Hepatitis C don’t have symptoms — and those who do, don’t show these until about 10 to 20 years after they’re infected.
The virus is deceptive: while symptoms are mild and vague and usually come and go, by the time they are noticeable, the damage may be very serious. Even if you do notice the symptoms and go to a doctor, these may be put down to the flu. As the symptoms will likely to go away in a few weeks, you may not know you have hepatitis C for very a long time.
How this happens
Anyone infected with hepatitis C enters an early, shorter-term stage of the disease called the acute stage. At this point, some lucky people are able to fight off the virus permanently and never develop more serious liver problems. But up to 85 percent of those infected with the virus will go on to develop long-term or chronic hepatitis C.
Long-term hepatitis C infection often causes tiny scars to form gradually in the liver, making it hard for the liver to work. A chronic infection can last for many years and may never go away. With a chronic infection, you’ll also probably have some liver inflammation — even if you don’t have symptoms. And over a period of 20 years or more, some people who develop chronic hepatitis C will develop more serious liver problems like cirrhosis or liver cancer.
At worst, the infection will become so severe that your liver can no longer function. This is called end-stage liver failure and having a liver transplant may be the only way to extend your life.
Statistics from the World Health Organization show that 60–70 percent of chronically infected persons develop chronic liver disease, 5-20 percent develop cirrhosis, and 1–5 percent die from cirrhosis or liver cancer.