The Savvy Senior: Why baby boomers should get tested for hepatitis C

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges all baby boomers to be tested for hepatitis C. The generation is five times more likely to have the disease than others.
Oklahoman Published: October 9, 2012
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Dear Savvy Senior,

In the news last month there was a public health alert urging all baby boomers to get tested for hepatitis C. Is this really necessary, and if so, what are the testing and treatment procedures?

Weary Wanda

Dear Wanda,

If you're a baby boomer, getting tested for hepatitis C would be a wise decision because boomers are five times more likely to have this virus than other generations, and most people that have it don't realize it. Those that are infected are at very high risk of eventually developing liver cancer, cirrhosis or other fatal liver diseases. Here's what else you should know.

CDC recommendations

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced that all Americans born from 1945 through 1965 get a hepatitis C test. The reason is because baby boomers account for 75 percent of the 3 million or so hepatitis C cases in the U.S., even though they make up only 27 percent of the total population.

Most hepatitis C infections occurred in the 1970s and 1980s, before there were tests to detect them and before the nation's blood supply was routinely screened for the virus.

Hepatitis C is transmitted only through blood, so anyone who received either a blood transfusion or an organ transplant before 1992 is at increased risk. So are health care workers exposed to blood and people who injected drugs through shared needles. The virus can also be spread through microscopic amounts of infected blood that could occur during sex, from sharing a razor or toothbrush, or getting a tattoo or body piercing at an unsterile shop.

But the biggest part of the problem is the symptomless nature of this disease. Most people who have hepatitis C don't have any symptoms until their liver becomes severely damaged. It can actually take 30 years for people to show any signs of the virus, and by then, it may be too late to treat. But if it's detected in time, new treatments are now available that can cure it.



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