Baby boomers at higher risk for hepatitis C
Were you born between 1945 and 1965? If so, you may want to consider a simple blood test. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), baby boomers are five times more likely to be infected with hepatitis C, a viral disease that leads to swelling of the liver.
In recent months the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) and the CDC have recommended that all baby boomers get a routine screening for hepatitis C infection. Current statistics show that one in 30 baby boomers is infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV), the leading cause of liver transplants in the United States.
According to Dr. Joseph Larouche, family practitioner at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Bloomington, Ill., only 15 percent of people who get infected with the virus have symptoms in the days to months after initial infection. These may include nausea, fatigue, muscle aches and weight loss. Patients often remain infected with the virus and do not even know until years to decades later.
“It is at this point that patients would develop cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver and liver failure, similar to what happens in alcoholics,” says Larouche.
While the CDC states that it is not completely understood why baby boomers have an increased rate of hepatitis C, it is believed that many came in contact with the disease in the 1970s and 1980s and have remained asymptomatic. The disease is spread through contact with an infected person’s blood. Prior to 1992, the nation’s blood supply was not screened with the same intensity as it is now, therefore causing potential transmission to those having received blood and blood products in that time frame. Having shared a needle at any time for drug use, tattoos or other purposes is also a risk factor.
Detection of the virus can be done through a simple blood test performed at your primary care physician’s office. Hepatitis C can be treated with antiviral medications that can slow disease progression and prevent liver failure.
“This simple test can prevent serious complications in millions of patients across the United States,” Larouche says. “If you fall into this age category, talk with your physician.”
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