Medical professionals are advising all baby boomers to be tested for hepatitis C, a leading cause of liver disease and liver cancer. Known as the silent killer, this dangerous condition moves through your body, usually with no symptoms, and over time devastates your liver. The hepatitis C virus is prevalent in many baby boomers yet they don’t know they have it. Therefore, doctors are recommending that all baby boomers be tested for hepatitis C so those having it can be treated right away.
The New York Times recently reported that more than three million Americans have hepatitis C and 75 percent of them are baby boomers. Many in the boomer generation were infected years ago and have been carrying it around with them since their teens and twenties. Most were infected by blood transfusions and drug use.
In their youth, baby boomers were part of the drug culture. Many injected drugs into their systems with shared needles. It would only take one time with an infected needle to be infected with hepatitis C. Boomers who used drugs and shared needles are at high risk for hepatitis C.
Other baby boomers were infected with tainted blood. Boomers who had a blood transfusion done before 1992 are prime candidates for hepatitis C. Prior to 1992, donated blood supplies were not thoroughly screened for this virus, so some boomers were contaminated. Universal precautions and widespread screening of donated blood supplies did not surface until the mid-90s.
So why does Hepatitis C seem to target the baby boomer generation? The Mayo Clinic tells the story in numbers:
- more than 75 percent of adults infected with hepatitis C virus are in their 50s and 60s;
- baby boomers are five times more likely to have hepatitis C than are adults in other age groups;
- hepatitis C is often a silent infection. At least 45 percent of people with hepatitis C are unaware that they’re infected;
- cirrhosis caused by chronic hepatitis C is the top reason for liver transplantation in the United States. Nearly 40 percent of liver transplants in adults are due to hepatitis C; and
- hepatitis C-related illness, including liver failure and liver cancer, claims more than 15,000 lives a year in the US and most of them are baby boomers.
According to The Center of Disease Control (CDC), hepatitis C is a liver disease that results from infection with the hepatitis C virus. Once infected with the hepatitis C virus, nearly eight in ten people remain infected for life. People with hepatitis C often have no symptoms and can live for decades without feeling sick.
For some people, the CDC adds, the disease can cause serious health problems including liver damage, cirrhosis, and even liver cancer. Hepatitis C is a leading cause of liver cancer and the leading reason for liver transplants. Medical treatment can save the lives of boomers with hepatitis C.
Local baby boomers who want to be tested for hepatitis C should go to their doctor or medical provider. Baltimore County’s Network of Care has a wealth of information about hepatitis C and testing.