Baby Boomers Get Hepatitis C Warning, Should You Listen?
Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned baby boomers they should get tested for hepatitis C at least once, and now another organization has issued a similar recommendation. If you are a baby boomer and don’t feel ill, should you listen to this warning, and if so, why?
Why are baby boomers at risk for hepatitis C?
According to a new announcement from the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC), anyone born between 1945 and 1965 is five times more likely than other adults to be infected with the hepatitis C virus. If you fall into that group, you may be wondering why your risk for the disease is this great.
The truth is, experts are not sure, but they offer some possibilities. However, these possibilities can also include people who are not baby boomers.
- Use of illegal injectable drugs (just one time is enough to get infected)
- Contaminated blood products (testing of the blood supply began in July 1992). Hepatitis C is mainly spread through contact with contaminated blood
- History of organ transplant before routine testing for hepatitis and HIV (prior to July 1992)
- Exposure from a needle stick at a healthcare facility
- Infection with HIV
- Long-term dialysis treatment
- Getting a tattoo with contaminated needles
If none of these risk factors are relevant for you, should you still be concerned about having hepatitis C? The APIC warns that individuals with hepatitis C often do not have any symptoms and can harbor the disease for many years without knowing it; that is, until the liver has been seriously damaged.
When people do experience any signs or symptoms of hepatitis C during the early stages of the disease, they are generally mild and may include fever, nausea, poor appetite, fatigue, joint or muscle pain, and tenderness in the region of the liver. Such symptoms can easily be dismissed as being a case of the flu.
As people get older, the chances of developing serious liver disease (e.g., cirrhosis or liver failure) from hepatitis C increase. Therefore, the APIC recommends baby boomers get a simple blood test to determine if they have the virus.
Unlike hepatitis A and hepatitis B, there is no vaccine for hepatitis C. If you are diagnosed with hepatitis C, you can avoid becoming one of the more than 15,000 Americans who die each year from hepatitis C-related illness by seeking treatment immediately.
Fortunately, not everyone who is diagnosed with hepatitis C has liver damage that requires treatment. For those who do, however, treatment typically includes taking several drugs, including pegylated interferon along with the antiviral drug ribavirin (Copegus, Rebetol, others), and possibly one of the two newest antivirals on the market, telaprevir (Incivek) and boceprevir (Victrelis).
Prompt treatment of hepatitis C can clear the virus from the bloodstream, while delaying or neglecting treatment can result in serious, even deadly consequences. If you are a baby boomer, or if you have any of the risk factors for hepatitis C, you should consult your healthcare provider about the possibility of being tested for the virus.
Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology