Clipboard: The case for speaking out on HCV

State and federal officials continue to investigate an outbreak of hepatitis C at Exeter Hospital in New Hampshire. The outbreak, in a cardiac cathertization lab, may be the result of an infected worker replacing sterile syringes with used ones while stealing drugs, investigators have said. Globe correspondent Helen Shun wrote about the case earlier this month.

At least 20 people, including one employee, have tested positive for the virus, though more have joined a class action lawsuit. One, a 49-year-old man who has not publicly given his name, has talked about the experience.

Meg Heckman, a reporter at the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire, in a column published yesterday urges more to share their stories.

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“Speak up,’’ she writes. “Come out. Tell us your names.’’

She goes on: “The secrecy surrounding HCV has big consequences. Public health officials have long struggled to determine how many Americans have HCV, but most estimates put the figure somewhere between 3 million and 4 million.’’

Heckman, a longtime friend and mentor, knows what she’s talking about. She contracted hepatitis C through a blood transfusion when she was an infant. In 2010, she wrote a moving series about the role the disease plays in her life, her struggle with the stigma of hepatitis, and her experience in a clinical trial testing drugs expected to cure it.

Heckman calls the surging numbers of people in the United States expected to be diagnosed with hepatitis C in the coming years — and the cost to care for them — “dizzying.’’ But, she says, “I believe that small acts – like debunking rumors, smashing stereotypes and disclosing your infection – can make a big difference.’’

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