Natalie Cole has Hep.C, likely from past drug use

LOS ANGELES Wed Jul 16, 2008 4:51pm EDT

Singer Natalie Cole poses at the Ebony magazine pre-Oscar party at Boulevard 3 in Hollywood, California February 21, 2008. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Singer Natalie Cole poses at the Ebony magazine pre-Oscar party at Boulevard 3 in Hollywood, California February 21, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Grammy-winning singer Natalie Cole has been diagnosed with Hepatitis C and probably contracted the liver disease from drug use more than 30 years ago, according to her publicist.

"The virus, found during a routine examination, is likely the result of her drug use many decades ago," her publicist Lellie Capwell said in a statement released on Wednesday.

Cole, 58, the daughter of legendary singer Nat King Cole, is responding well to treatment but is suffering what doctors called "significant side effects" including fatigue, muscle aches and dehydration.

The singer, whose father died of lung cancer when she was 15, documented her addiction to cocaine, heroin and alcohol in her 2000 autobiography "Angel On My Shoulder." She overcame her addiction after a lengthy stay in rehab in the early 1980s.

"I've been so fortunate to have learned so much from my past experiences," Cole said in the statement.

"I am embraced by the love and support of my family and friends; I am committed to my belief in myself and in my abiding faith to meet this challenge with a heartfelt optimism and determination. This is how I intend to deal with this current challenge in my life," she said.

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne infectious disease that is often without symptoms and can cause inflammation of the liver, and in extreme case, liver cancer. It is usually contracted through transfusions of unscreened blood, or by injecting or inhaling drugs.

Dr Graham Woolf, associate clinical professor of medicine at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, said: "Natalie has had a terrific response to her medication and is now virus negative.

"This gives her an increased chance of cure. But, she has also suffered significant side effects from the anti-viral medicine".

Fans of Cole's flooded her Web site (www.nataliecole.com) with messages of support and appealed to the singer to speak out on behalf of other Hepatitis C sufferers. "We do need your voice because Hep C is a silent killer. It eventually affects other parts of the body. God speed to you and your family," wrote vmitch12.

Natalie Cole has won eight Grammys in a 30-year career singing jazz, pop and R&B and releasing hit albums such as "Everlasting" and "Unforgettable...With Love" which featured her singing a duet with her late father via electronic technology.

(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte, Leslie Gevirtz)

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