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Why Hepatitis C Is Often Called 'The Silent Killer'

ORANGE  ( —  Hepatitis C is often called "the silent epidemic" and "the silent killer."

Most of the people who have it, doctors say, don't realize they have it.

People who have the virus might not look or even feel sick -- for decades. It's estimated that somewhere between two and four million Americans have the virus.

CBS2's Michele Gile spoke to a specialist about Natalie Cole's battle with the disease.

RELATED LINK: Grammy-Winning Singer Natalie Cole Dies Of Congestive Heart Failure At 65

Cole first went public with her battle seven years ago on "Larry King Live."

She said she contracted the disease decades ago.

"The Hep C came from drug use," she said, "25 years before. Which lets you know the virus for Hep C can live in your body for a long time."

Cole died from congestive heart failure but her underlying medical issues could also be attributed to kidney problems which led to a kidney transplant.

"Hepatitis C can affect all the organs in your body," says Dr. Hardeep Singh, a liver specialist. "and in its end stages, you have to worry about cirrhosis of the liver, and ultimately liver cancer. Sometimes it can affect the heart and the kidneys in its later stages."

Because many people don't even know they have the virus, the Centers for Disease Control recommends baby boomers get tested.

"That group in particular," says Dr. Singh, "born between 1945 and 1965 have a higher risk for contracting Hepatitis C."

The reason, according to Dr. Singh, is high-risk behaviors associated with the baby boomer generation, including IV drug use, high risk sexual activities and blood transfusions before screening became more advanced in 1991.

Every year, 20,000 Americans die from Hepatitis C and another 20,000 are diagnosed with it.

On the plus side, treatments are now considerably less toxic and much more successful. The cure rate is now between 90 and 95 percent.




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