CONYERS -- Rep. Hank Johnson revealed Monday he had been receiving treatment for hepatitis C and planned to raise awareness of the disease.
In an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Johnson said he had received treatment for hepatitis C for more than a decade and that he was declared free of the disease in January.
The Lithonia Democrat, who represents Rockdale County in the 4th Congressional District, said he hoped his experience would raise awareness of hepatitis C, a virus that affects about 5.4 million people in the United States.
"I plan to use my position as a public figure to raise awareness of the consequences of this infection and let others fighting hepatitis know that it is possible to succeed and excel while battling this disease," Johnson said in a written statement. "The causes of this disease are many, but in the end it does not matter how someone contracted the virus. Like so many millions of others, I was infected many years without ever knowing how I contracted it."
Johnson, who is 55, said in the AJC interview that he was diagnosed in 1998.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hepatitis C is transmitted when clean blood comes in contact with blood infected by the disease. Though more than 5 million people in the United States have the disease today, many more may not even know they have it because it can lie dormant for decades.
In 2007 alone, the CDC estimated that 43,000 Americans were newly infected with hepatitis B and 17,000 with hepatitis C. Chronic viral hepatitis infections kill up to 15,000 Americans each year.
Johnson said in the written statement that the infection has not affected his ability to serve in Washington. Along with serving as chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts and Competition Policy, Johnson is also the southeast regional whip in the House leadership.
"Though this infection has caused me some discomfort and frustration, it has in no way affected my ability to legislate and serve my constituents," Johnson said. "My record of attendance at votes and in committee meetings is outstanding."
Johnson also announced Monday that he will co-sponsor legislation, H.R. 3974, which would establish, promote, and support a comprehensive prevention, education, research and medical referral program for viral hepatitis infection.
Also, he said he will work with the National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable to help educate colleagues and the public on hepatitis.
For more information, go to National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable Web site at www.nvhr.org.