In observance of May as Hepatitis Awareness Month, the Latino Commission on AIDS and its partners have designated May 15 as the first annual National Hispanic Hepatitis Awareness Day (NHHAD). Both of these events highlight the importance of strengthening efforts to address hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection among Latinos.

NHHAD is a national community mobilization and social marketing campaign that unites the Latino community in efforts to raise awareness about viral hepatitis, promotion of hep C testing, and prevention and education, in addition to other related critical health issues such as HIV coinfection and alcohol use.

“Let’s Talk About Hepatitis” or “Hablemos sobre la hepatitis” is this year’s NHHAD theme. NHHAD’s organizers want to leverage this theme to support Hispanic-serving community-based organizations, faith-based communities, and local health departments to provide hep C testing, awareness, and prevention and education services.

The following stories from Latinos living with HCV provide personal insight into the specific challenges and opportunities they face.

Jeannette Gonzalez

I got mine through a blood transfusion in the 1980s and I found out in the 1990s that I had hepatitis C. The most difficult for me was when I took the hep C treatment. The medications were difficult because I’m not used to taking medications everyday.

After treatment I became a peer educator and this has changed my life. Helping others is what I like doing.

The positive thing about hep C is that I got rid of it and that’s what I want people to know. It’s not as scary as people say it is, it’s not the same for everyone. I was one of the fortunate ones.

I had a friend that kept saying in regards to the treatment, “Eso es malo, eso es malo.” He kept scaring people not to take it. If I had listened to him, I never would have taken it. Get it now while you can.

Jose Quiles

I had hepatitis C for 20 years before I discovered that I had it. After finding out I had hepatitis C, I was in denial for a while and didn’t want treatment. I was afraid of it. I had heard so many bad things about side effects.

Eventually I took the plunge and decided to take the treatment after the coaching of my doctor. The side effects were strong, but they weren’t anything I couldn’t beat. Within 12 weeks I was undetectable. I have a lot of hope for my future now. Six years later and I’m still undetectable.

Hep C is not a death sentence, it’s curable. If I took chances injecting myself with drugs that I didn’t know what was in it, I can do this. I decided my life was worth taking a chance and facing the side effects, which in my case were few.

I became anemic, I lost some hair, but I’m fine now. That was temporary. I want the world to know that it’s something that’s manageable, you just have to have the guts to go through treatment.

Yolanda Maldonado

I have had hepatitis C since 1997. The most challenging thing to me was making sure that all of my cuts were covered and that no one came in contact with it. I am always aware of any cuts that I have. I feel that I am contaminated and that really scares me.

As far as my family is concerned, it’s always on my mind to let them know that I have hepatitis C so that they are aware. The hepatitis C treatment was the positive outlook for me, even though it didn’t work for me, I want to try again. I did the triple therapy for 48 weeks. The medication was helping me eradicate the hep C, which it did, for four months. But it came back.

When people ask me about treatment, I don’t say anything negative about it. I tell them I had a lot of side effects, but that was me. Not everyone is the same. I had a lot of side effects. But I can’t say that that will be the same for you.

My future goal for my health is to eradicate hep C, to completely get rid of it and just really looking forward for the new medications. I also want the world to know to stop thinking that the hep C treatment is so bad.

Hep C is right up there with HIV, because it’s a silent killer. Some people don’t know they have it until years later. It doesn’t have to be that way. It doesn’t have to be a death sentence. No es una sentencia.

Luis Garcia

I’m a peer educator and have been a patient for the past 2.5 years. I am 50 years old and of Puerto Rican descent. I contracted hepatitis C type 1 around 1976. I got it from a tattoo while I was at a juvenile detention facility. I’ve carried this virus for about 30 years before I even knew I had it and for another 11 years before I finally decided to get treatment for it.

At one point, I believed that not knowing about my hepatitis C was the best thing for me. But I finally received treatment with the triple therapy and was able to get rid of the monster that I was carrying for so long.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to get tested as soon as possible. I must admit that hepatitis C has enabled me to change my entire outlook on my life. Ever since I started taking care of my hep C, I have been clean and sober for 3.5 years. My only focus has been the sanity of my health, be it physically, psychiatrically, socially, and emotionally.

Although hepatitis C is commonly attributed to drug users, gays, prostitutes, etc., that is not so. Such stigma continues to hurt the community. Please get tested, educated, treated, and most of all, spread the word because hepatitis C can be beat. I know because I am living proof!

Roberto C. Olivieras

I’m a 40-year-old man from Puerto Rico. I was diagnosed with hep C in New York City in 2000. I lived with HCV for quite some time before seeking medical attention. It wasn’t until 2006 that I participated in a hep C group where I really learned what my condition really meant, and then asked for medical care.

I was referred for an antibody test, viral load and also got a biopsy. I was genotype 1A and it was suggested that if I did the hep C treatment I had a good chance of clearing it. I started my treatment in early 2007.

Hep C treatment was tough. I went thru side effects, and especially depression because of my cocaine use. After three months, I became undetectable, and that was the best part. I decided to stop using cocaine and started taking the treatment seriously. On my seventh month I became anemic and I started injections to boost my white blood cells, which I took until I finished my treatment in Jan 2008. A year and three months later, my hep C was undetectable.

After I finished treatment, I was still going though the side effects. I started feeling depressed and used it as an excuse to use cocaine again. One day I bought a syringe from someone that had actually been used, cleaned and resealed. After I used and disposed of it, I started feeling sick: fatigue, sweats and had dark urine for a month. I was diagnosed with acute hepatitis B. I was lucky and given a second chance: my body fought it off and so now I am immune to hep B.

I thank God, the medical staff and my family for helping me make it through to another day. My experience wasn’t easy, and at one moment I thought I would never make it. In the end, I’m glad I decided to take part in hep C treatment.

In a way it was bad, and in another it was the best decision I have made for myself, because it proved to me that nothing is impossible. After five years, I’m very fortunate to be alive and it’s an honor to share my story.