Veterans have a high rate of hepatitis C infection.
Terry Baker took the hepatitis C test on a whim.
It was 1999, and the Vietnam Navy veteran was at a conference for veterans in Savannah, Georgia, where there was free hepatitis C testing.
The blood-borne viral disease was a hot topic then, as studies began surfacing on the number of veterans with the infection. One study found that between 1991 and 1994, the number of hep C-positive veterans increased by more than 285 percent.
Today, the situation is much worse. Veterans are three times more likely to have been infected with hepatitis C than the general population, according to data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. And Wilmington’s VA is seeing a rise in hep C-related liver cancer.
Baker sat through a presentation that day on the disease and saw it was daunting. The infection has few early symptoms, and danger signs may not appear for decades. But patients can face liver scarring and liver cancer as the organ fails.
Baker never expected to be one of the 19 veterans that day to test positive.
“Back in ’99 all you heard was you’re gonna die,” Baker, now 64, said. “It threw me for a loop.”
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