Have you been screened for hepatitis C? If you’re a Baby Boomer born between 1946 and 1965 health officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) want you to get tested.
Over 15,000 Americans die from hepatitis C-related complications each year, and according to health officials, Baby Boomers are five times more likely to be infected than any other age group.
Often considered a silent killer, hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease that usually spreads through direct contact with infected blood. Most infected individuals don’t experience symptoms and as a result don’t seek out proper medical care for years or even decades.
Today, hepatitis C is most commonly spread through intravenous drug abuse with a contaminated needle. However, before more stringent screening laws were applied to blood donations in 1992, many people came into contact with the virus through blood transfusions and organ transplants.
Less commonly, hepatitis C can also be spread from mother to child at birth or through sexual contact, occupational needle stick injuries or shared personal items (e.g., toothbrushes, razors, etc.) with an infected person.
There is also a growing concern that the virus is being spread through manicures, tattoos or body piercing.
Hepatitis C can be either acute or chronic. Acute refers to the initial illness that usually occurs within six months of being infected. However, the vast majority (nearly three-quarters) of those with acute hepatitis C progress to a chronic, lasting infection.
If left untreated, hepatitis C can lead to scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) as well as liver cancer. It is also the number one cause for liver transplants in the U.S.
Approximately 3 percent of Baby Boomers are infected and the number of deaths related to hepatitis C has nearly doubled from 1999 to 2007. These figures have prompted the CDC to propose new guidelines urging all Baby Boomers to get tested.
“Unless we take action, we project deaths will increase substantially,” said CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden at a press conference.
The good news is that onetime testing could identify more than 800,000 cases of hepatitis C across the country. And with newly available treatments hitting the market, the majority of infected individuals can be successfully treated.
If you haven’t been tested recently, it’s time to schedule an appointment. A hepatitis C virus test can produce conclusive results in as little as 20 minutes.