Baby boomers – people born between 1946 and 1964 – comprise about 25 percent of the United States population, yet they account for a whopping 75 percent of hepatitis C cases. In fact, 1 in 30 baby boomers is infected with hepatitis C.
Why this staggering statistic?
Ray Rubin, M.D., a transplant hepatologist at Piedmont Transplant Institute, says baby boomers with hepatitis C likely contracted the disease 20 to 30 years ago and are just now developing complications, such as liver cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Hepatitis C risk factors
All baby boomers are at risk for hepatitis C, but the biggest risk factors include receiving a blood transfusion prior to 1992 and intravenous or intranasal drug use.
Even one-time drug users who, for example, experimented in college could have been exposed to the virus.
Hepatitis C patients may not have symptoms
Hepatitis C can go undetected for decades without patients having any symptoms, but inside the body it could be causing serious liver problems.
“The tricky thing about hepatitis C is you don’t necessarily get sick when you first get exposed,” says Dr. Rubin. “It might be something that gets uncovered on a simple blood test.”
Hepatitis C test
Testing for hepatitis C is a simple process, but it’s important to discuss your risk factors with your physician.
“Unless your doctor is aware of specific risk factors for you, he or she might not know to test you for hepatitis C,” he explains.
According to 2012 recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, all baby boomers should be tested for hepatitis C, regardless of risk factors.
“Nobody is very comfortable sharing a history of former drug use if that’s their particular risk factor,” says Dr. Rubin. “Even things like a blood transfusion — patients may not remember to tell their new primary care physician about it.”
The sooner you treat hepatitis C, the better
“Certainly it’s the physician’s responsibility to remember that all baby boomers ought to be tested, but patients are partners in their own healthcare,” says Dr. Rubin. “It’s very important if they haven’t been tested that they request to be tested.”
Left untreated, hepatitis C leads to chronic liver diseases. Today, new treatments are available and offer the potential for a cure if the disease is treated soon enough.
“It would make such a difference to identify someone before they develop cirrhosis from hepatitis C and to eradicate the virus completely with relatively easy treatment,” he says.
Learning your hepatitis C status is crucial because the sooner the disease is treated, the better your chances of a cure. Click here to find a primary care physician near you who can administer a screening test.