Natalie Cole is adding her voice to healthcare company Merck’s public health campaign, Tune In to Hep C, with the American Liver Foundation (ALF) and rock legend Gregg Allman.

The goal of the campaign is to raise awareness of chronic hepatitis C virus infection. Cole will join Allman onstage at a benefit concert featuring The Allman Brothers Band and other special guests in New York tonight, July 27, the eve of World Hepatitis Day.

This cause is personal to Cole, who was diagnosed with chronic hepatitis C during a routine blood test in 2008. It was then that she realized she’d been living with the virus for more than 25 years – nearly half of her life. Cole’s experience is not uncommon. In fact, chronic hepatitis C is often referred to as the silent disease because – for many people – it can be in the body for decades without any symptoms. Cole is joining the campaign to encourage others with chronic hepatitis C to put aside fear and stigma and take action.

“One thing is for sure – there’s a stigma surrounding hepatitis C because it’s associated with IV drug use. But it really doesn’t matter how you got the virus. What’s important is that you do something about it,” said Cole. “I am grateful that Merck and the American Liver Foundation created this campaign to give a voice to those with chronic hepatitis C, and I hope that my story can help others overcome their fears about taking that next step by talking to their doctor about their options.”

Approximately 3.2 million Americans have chronic hepatitis C virus infection, a potentially serious disease that can damage the liver over time and lead to cirrhosis, end-stage liver disease and liver cancer. Many people infected with chronic hepatitis C do not know that they have the virus – approximately 70 to 80 percent of people newly infected with the virus do not have symptoms.

“It’s great to have Natalie on board to help spread the message that chronic hepatitis C is not something you can ignore,” Allman said. “Together, we’ll be working to fight the stigma that can keep people from addressing this disease. I know all too well that doing nothing is not an option. That’s why we’re telling people, talk to your doctor.”

The American Liver Foundation joined the Tune In to Hep C campaign to help elevate awareness of this important public health issue. ALF is a national organization advocating for those living with liver disease and their families, and provides education, support and research for the prevention, treatment and cure of liver disease.

“Since we launched this campaign a month ago, we’ve been inundated with messages from people with chronic hepatitis C and their loved ones who all say the same thing – ‘I never thought we’d see the day where there would be a voice and a face to this disease. It’s about time,’” said Newton Guerin, acting CEO and chief operating officer, ALF. “By sharing their stories, Gregg and Natalie are sending a powerful message to those who feel alone and afraid to come forward as well as anyone who is hesitant to take action.”

More information about the campaign as well as Allman’s and Cole’s stories are available on www.TuneInToHepC.com, which launched today. The website also offers a first glimpse at Allman’s new television public service announcement, which is slated to hit the airwaves in the coming weeks.

“It is our hope that this campaign, and Gregg’s and Natalie’s inspirational stories, will serve as a spark to encourage dialogue about chronic hepatitis C among communities, families and friends, as well as between physicians and their patients,” said Mark Timney, president, Global Human Health – U.S. Market, Merck. “From the feedback we’ve received so far, we believe the campaign is already making a difference, and we look forward to continuing to reach others with chronic hepatitis C, and, hopefully, motivating them to take action.”

The concert, Tune In to Hep C Presents The Allman Brothers Band, will take place at The Beacon Theatre in New York City tonight, July 27, the eve of World Hepatitis Day. Allman and Cole will both perform at the concert, along with The Allman Brothers Band and other special guests. Proceeds from the benefit concert will be donated to the American Liver Foundation and to the National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable, a coalition of public, private and voluntary organizations dedicated to reducing the incidence of infection, morbidity and mortality from viral hepatitis in the United States.

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