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What is hepatitis C, the almost-fatal infection that Naomi Judd survived in the ‘90s?

Decades before she died, the country music star faced a health crisis that doctors told her was a death sentence.

Family, friends and country music fans are mourning the death of Naomi Judd.

On Saturday, the musical icon’s daughters, Wynonna Judd and Ashley Judd, announced that they’d loss their “beloved mother to the disease of mental illness” at the age of 76.

Naomi Judd
Naomi Judd making tea in bed at her condo in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1990, shortly after being diagnosis with hepatitis C. Will & Deni McIntyre / Getty Images

But that devastating loss came decades after they first feared facing a future without her. In 1990, doctors told the Judd family matriarch that she'd contracted hepatitis C and had three years to live.As one half of the wildly successful singing duo The Judds, the six-time Grammy winner was at the top of her career when doctors told her she was suffering from the blood-borne liver infection.

While hepatitis C is a short-term illness for some people, more than half of people with the virus develop a chronic infection, which can lead to potentially fatal conditions like cirrhosis and liver cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Judd battled hepatitis C for five years and survived, despite what doctors had initially told her.

Naomi Judd
Judd was told she wasn't expected to live more than three years after her hepatitis C diagnosis. Will & Deni McIntyre / Getty Images

Judd, who worked as a nurse before getting into the entertainment industry, reflected on her diagnosis during a 2019 interview for The Dr. Oz Podcast. "I was so poisoned by my own body," she said.

But after learning of her infection, Judd's first thoughts weren't about her own wellbeing.

"I was flipped out because I was going to lose my career," she continued. "Wynona and I had contracts for a year of concerts. I felt like I was the CEO of a big corporation. If I didn’t sing, then people didn’t eat. It was hideous."

Still, given her condition, which she said left her barely able to finish sentences, she had no choice but to step away from her musical career and disband The Judds in 1991.

The Judds Perform Onstage
Country music duo The Judds, with Naomi Judd and her daughter Wynonna, performed onstage at the Poplar Creek Music Theater in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, June 3, 1990. Paul Natkin / Getty Images

While daughter Wynonna launched a solo career, Judd didn't give up.

"Whatever you believe becomes your biology," she said. And to other's facing similar odds, she added, "Get out of the bleachers and get into the game."

In the years since Judd's experience with hepatitis C, the guidelines for screening for the illness have changed. Since April 2020, it's been recommended that all adults over 18 are screened for the virus at least once in their lives, per the CDC. That's because cases of hepatitis C are rising, especially among adults of reproductive age. Between 2015 and 2019, new cases of hepatitis C increased by more than 60%, and in 2019, adults 20 to 39 years old made up more than 63% of infections.

Judd contracted hepatitis C from a needle while working as a news, according to E! News, but the most common way it spread is through injected drug use. Both new and chronic infections don't usually show symptoms, but when they do, these include: fever, fatigue, discolored stool or urine, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, joint pain and jaundice.