Shabana contracted hepatitis C as a teenager in Pakistan, but it would be years before she received a hepatitis C diagnosis. She shares her story in the hope that others will come forward for testing and treatment.
I’m a grandmother and 18 years ago I found out that I had caught the hepatitis C virus when I was a teenager.
I had been unwell for a number of years and my doctor said it was down to depression. He put me on antidepressants but took me off them six months later when they didn’t work.
I had a whole variety of symptoms including severe depression, digestive problems, sleepless nights and terrible mood swings. I felt like I almost always had the flu; my nose would run, I had a high temperature and I felt aches all over my body.
Every other day I was at the GP.
I kept saying: “I have been ill for so many years, are you sure you’ve done all the tests?”
The doctor tried all the routine tests and they came back negative. I was told that I was fine and it was in my head.
I told the doctor, “This is not in my head, I can feel it. I am ill and unable to look after my children.”
I asked if there was anything else it could be, anything that was left that I had not been tested for. He looked at me and said that there were a couple of tests he didn’t want to offer me because I was from a respectable Asian background and he didn’t want to offend me.
I insisted that every possible avenue should be explored.
So he put me in for a hepatitis C and HIV test.
I was so worried. At that time, it took about three weeks to get your blood test back. The doctor called me and said there was good news and bad news. He said the good news was that I didn’t have HIV but the bad news was that I had tested positive for hepatitis C.
To be honest, I felt relieved. I finally had an explanation for why I had been feeling so unwell. I was glad that I trusted my instincts and kept looking for answers.
Although most people know injecting drugs puts someone at high risk for the infection, some more everyday risk factors can also put you at risk. These risks include sharing a toothbrush, razor or hair clippers, dental or medical treatment abroad, or religious practices in some countries.
I felt like I almost always had the flu; my nose would run, I had a high temperature and I felt aches all over my body.
When I was diagnosed I wanted to work out how I had got it.
At the time of my diagnosis, they used to do a liver biopsy and could use this test to tell me how long I had the virus. They told me I’d had it for 15 to 20 years.
This meant I must have contracted hepatitis C when I was 13-14 years old in Pakistan. I remember that I had fallen ill at that age. My father had taken me to a local doctor who used a syringe that was not sterile.
Because of the poor sterilisation of medical equipment, I am not the only one from my family in Pakistan who got sick. I have lost five family members to hepatitis C because they had been treated by the same doctor as I had while I was in the country. You have to pay for hepatitis C treatment in Pakistan they couldn’t afford the treatment.
Since I was diagnosed, treatment for the virus has come on a long way. Now people are able to take one tablet a day and clear hepatitis C in just eight to 12 weeks.
I now work for The Hepatitis C Trust, raising awareness of the virus among South Asian communities. I want everyone to know about the risks and, more importantly, how easily it can be treated.
Testing for it is simple and free. Anyone who thinks they may have ever been at risk of contracting hepatitis C can get tested.