Rep. Johnson discloses fight with hepatitis C

LAWRENCEVILLE -- U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, whose district includes Lilburn and Norcross, said Monday he has been battling hepatitis C for more than a decade.

He said his treatment has gone well, and he plans to use his position to raise awareness of the infection.

"I hope that my disclosure will provide others suffering from HCV with confidence to speak out and educate the community about this illness," he said, adding that he did not know how he contracted the disease. "Through clinical trials and medical research, we must always seek new, more effective treatments."

Johnson, a Democrat from DeKalb County, said the virus has not affected his ability to serve in Congress.

"Though this infection has caused me some discomfort and frustration, it has in no way affected my ability to legislate and serve my constituents," he said. "My record of attendance at votes and in committee meetings is outstanding. I have passed three major bills in this year alone. As Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts and Competition Policy, I have led an active and effective committee. And as Southeast Regional Whip in the House leadership I played a significant role in rallying my colleagues' support for historic health reform."

Johnson's physician, Dr. Maria Sjogren of Walter Reed Army Medical Center, said the congressman can serve as an inspiration.

"He has been a model patient, sticking with his course of treatment even when it was most difficult," Sjogren said in a statement. "His determination shows that people suffering from hepatitis can live normal lives and continue to be productive citizens."

He made the announcement while adding he will co-sponsor legislation to establish a comprehensive prevention, education, research and medical referral program for viral hepatitis infection.

"Congressman Johnson's announcement shines a much-needed spotlight on a public health issue that has historically resided in the shadows," said Martha Saly, director of the National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable, who was treated for hepatitis C in 1999 and cleared the virus. "We are hopeful that Congressman Johnson's announcement will help spur greater awareness about the need for increased prevention, detection, and treatment of chronic viral hepatitis B and C."