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Cruising with Lazarus

Pamela Anderson: The Newest Hepatitis C Poster Girl

June 2002

Apparently, Pamela Anderson has one of the world's most recognizable faces and bodies. With roles in the wildly popular syndicated television series "Baywatch" and ABC's "Home Improvement," not to mention nude appearances in Playboy (the most covers of any woman in the history of the magazine), she embodies what currently passes for success in our society. Even Mr. Blackwell, the fashion guru who emerges from obscurity once a year like some sort of glorified groundhog to deliver celebrity best and worst dressed lists, calls Pamela the Marilyn Monroe of our generation, though he concedes she's "not a talent."

In reality, Pamela Anderson is incredibly talented at one thing: living a very public life. Her performances as a "Baywatch" lifeguard babe and a professional bodyguard in her latest series, "V.I.P.," pale in comparison to her public behavior. Not content to reveal that her breasts are -- surprise! -- enhanced by silicone implants, she told us in 1999 that she was having them removed ... although even someone as indifferent to breasts as I am can hardly tell the difference. They look, well, more resized than removed.

Ms. Anderson's sex life has also been well documented. She married heavy metal rocker Tommy Lee in 1995 after knowing him three days. A cheesy, way explicit homemade honeymoon sex video they made was later "stolen" from their home and conveniently turned up at IEG, an internet entertainment company specializing in obtaining and exploiting sexually explicit videos or photographs of celebrities for their adult websites. Tommy and Pamela initially protested but ultimately entered into an agreement permitting showings on the World Wide Web, but IEG copied and packaged the video for sale anyway and it shortly became the biggest selling adult video of all time.

Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee managed to procreate twice (sons Brandon and Dylan) before their marriage self-destructed in 2000 amidst tabloid tales of spousal abuse and sexual addiction. There had been two failed reconciliation attempts and Lee's arrest and conviction for assault, followed by his probation violation (which Pamela reported to police herself) and another sex video surfaced -- this time with heavy metal rocker Brett Michaels, whom Anderson dated before Tommy Lee.

Would you be surprised if I told you Pamela and Tommy are currently involved in a bitter custody battle over their sons and that each considers the other an unfit parent? Would it surprise you to learn that Pamela is engaged to rock-rap superstar Kid Rock? Those revelations wither next to the blonde bombshell's latest bombshell. Last March, Anderson's publicist released a statement announcing that she has contracted hepatitis C, a potentially fatal liver disease, and that she has undergone outpatient treatment for the disease at UCLA Medical Center. Perhaps most shocking of all, Anderson says, "I contracted hepatitis C while sharing a tattoo needle with my ex-husband Tommy Lee. Tommy has the disease and never disclosed it to me during our marriage." According to his publicist, "Tommy has never had hepatitis C or any sexually transmitted diseases."

It's hard to know just exactly who might be telling the truth here. While Pamela and Tommy are certainly among America's most celebrated white trash, it's not a reputation that carries much credibility. One thing that is absolutely true, however, is that sharing tattoo needles can indeed spread hepatitis C and other viruses like HIV. Re-using tattoo needles is like sharing IV drug syringes with strangers. Tattoo needles should be used only once, and then disposed. Anytime you get tattooed your body artist should open a brand new, packaged, sterilized needle for you. A virus can survive for some time in tattoo ink as well. Fresh ink should be used, and you can ask to see the body artist pour your ink into new, disposable "caps." If your body artist objects to either of these procedures, leave.

There are actually five different hepatitis viruses, known as A, B, C, D and E. Hepatitis literally means "inflammation of the liver." When your liver becomes inflamed, its ability to clean your body, produce bile and regulate your metabolism becomes threatened. Your liver is essential to life and hepatitis can cause cirrhosis or liver cancer. It can't be cured, but it can be treated. Here are some details about the three most common forms of hepatitis:

Hepatitis A

It's caused by fecal (stool, shit, crap, "doo-doo") contamination of food or water and though it's rarely fatal, it can cause flu-like symptoms for four to six months. Sexually, hepatitis A can be spread through rimming (mouth to anus). People who travel to developing countries, where clean water and proper sewage disposal are not always available, are also at risk. Hepatitis A is preventable by vaccine.

Hepatitis B

Generally considered the most serious form and about a hundred times more infectious than HIV -- it's found in blood and body fluids, which means it can be transmitted by sex, sharing needles or razors, or from mother to infant during birth. There are two forms: acute, lasting no longer than six months at which point you're no longer infectious, and chronic, lasting longer than six months, can be fatal and you remain infectious for life. Hepatitis B is preventable by vaccine.

Hepatitis C

The medical community remains a bit confused about this one. What we know for sure is that it's found in blood and most cases are associated with IV drug use or to a lesser extent, blood transfusions. More recently, medical research suggests sexual transmission is extremely uncommon, though obviously the risk grows when blood is present, like during menstruation. Mother to child transmission is also possible during birth. There are extremely high rates of liver cancer associated with hepatitis C and it is the leading cause of liver transplants today. There is no vaccine, but there are several drugs licensed for treatment of persons with long-term hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C is actually the most common blood-borne infection in the United States, affecting an estimated four million people, or roughly four times as many people as HIV. Co-infection with HIV and hepatitis C is not uncommon, so it's important to get tested for both, not just one or the other -- especially if you inject street drugs. And obviously alcohol abuse will aggravate hepatitis infection.

I don't know Pamela Anderson or Tommy Lee personally. I do know that people will say all kinds of horrible things about each other when engaged in a custody battle involving children. Maybe a friend could suggest to Pamela that her disclosure skills need some work and that maybe her two sons should be tested for hepatitis C, if not already, since the virus can pass from mother to child during birth. And since Pamela and Tommy got finger tattoos instead of conventional wedding rings for their 1995 nuptials, it's not outside the realm of possibility that a virus could have been transmitted from the elaborately tattooed Tommy to Pamela by some sloppy body artist using one needle on both newlyweds.

I'm not inclined to take sides here. Ms. Anderson does not impress me with large breasts or a big mouth (even when drawing much-needed attention to a killer virus, she still appears to be motivated by a need to publicly malign her ex-husband.) Then again, when Tommy Lee's publicist says, "Tommy has never had hepatitis C or any sexually transmitted diseases," it's like we're supposed to have forgotten Lee was the drummer for Motley Crüe, one of the 1980s most raucous heavy metal glam rock bands that pushed the limits of the phrase "sex, drugs and rock and roll."

Got a comment? Write to David at

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This article was provided by AIDS Survival Project. It is a part of the publication Survival News.
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