Richmondite spreads Hep C awareness

In the late 1990s, Daryl Luster was at the top of his game; he was a successful businessman, setting up a factory to manufacture furniture in China.

While travelling in the region, he began to notice certain flu-like symptoms such as chronic fatigue, as well as nausea, and an aching in his hands and arms.

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He didn't know it at the time but Luster was suffering from the acute (initial) stage of hepatitis

C. In fact, it wasn't until years later back in Canada that he was diagnosed with the liver disease that impacts approximately 300,000 Canadians nationwide.

In hindsight, Luster believes he contracted hepatitis C when he underwent emergency dental work while working in China.

Hepatitis C infects its victims through blood, often due to IV transfusions and unsterilized medical equipment. The problem is that many people who contract the disease, including Luster, have no obvious symptoms until serious liver damage has occurred.

"It is very important that more people in the general public learn about how important it is for baby boomers and people at risk be tested," said Luster.

According to the Canadian Society for International Health about one in five people with hepatitis C don't know they have the virus; hence, the slogan for this year's World Hepatitis Day (Monday, July 28) is "Know your status? Get tested."

In 2006, serious symptoms developed, and Luster's life took a sharp turn. Not only did he have to endure the often debilitating effects of the disease, he's also had to face the equally debilitating symptoms of discrimination.

Because the virus is often transmitted through dirty syringes, the disease has become associated with intravenous drug use.

But Luster argues, "It's about health, not reputation. Some victims are suspected to be drug users, but they are all people."

Exhaustion (a predominant symptom of the disease) as well as social barriers forced Luster into an early retirement.

In 2010, Luster, now a Richmond resident, began a challenging clinical trial. The thought of a cure gave him hope, but it was a tough trial. He was given Interferon, Ribavirin, and a third experimental drug. Their numourous side effects were almost as painful as the disease itself. The trial lasted 48 weeks, but a full recovery took two years.

Today, Luster is the president of the Pacific Hepatitis C Network Society. Luster believes reaching out to youth is vital, as it is a demographic largely ignorant of the disease.

The society also advocates for newer and more accessible treatments such as direct acting antivirals (DAAs), that can be taken orally, are more efficient and have fewer side effects. These drugs would target a strain of hepatitis C that is common in North America known as Genotype 1. In B.C. alone, an estimated 73,000 individuals are carrying the hep C virus, with a quarter of those not even aware of it. On Monday, Luster will attend a rally at the Vancouver Art Gallery and make his rounds through media in a bid to challenge attitudes and encourage people to get themselves tested.

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