Nearly 3 million Americans have chronic hepatitis C, but many don’t know they have it. Baby Boomers are at higher risk. Screening tests are important.
If you’re a baby boomer, you may be one of an estimated 2.7 million people in the U.S. living with chronic hepatitis C – an infection of the liver caused by a virus. Worse yet, you may not know you have it. However, even if you are particularly at risk, there is good news. Doctors can now see the extent of liver damage the virus causes, which also makes it easier to treat.
However, here’s the bottom line: If you’re a part of the Baby Boom Generation, you should be tested, says gastroenterologist and hepatologist Talal Adhami, MD.
Facts and figures
Hepatitis C is most often spread through contact with the blood of an infected person, but it can also be spread through sexual contact.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 2.7 million people in the United States are living with the virus, whether they know it or not. About two-thirds of those people are baby boomers.
The virus itself is not lethal, but its effects can be serious.
Why baby boomers are more at risk
Here are some of the reasons this population is more at risk:
- Blood transfusions and risky behaviors. “Blood transfusions were not screened before July 1992,” says Dr. Adhami. “There was also a sexual revolution in the 1960s, which not only encouraged risky sexual behaviors, but also drug experimentation.” People who have had unprotected sex and those who have taken drugs, particularly who have injected or snorted, are also at an increased risk for hepatitis C, he says.
- Use of blood products. Dr. Adhami believes that all baby boomers should be tested, but there are some risk factors that make testing even more imperative. “Anyone in this age group who has received blood products is at risk,” says Dr. Adhami. “Chronic dialysis and HIV patients also need to be tested.”
You may not feel sick, but liver damage is common
Some people can have hepatitis C for years without feeling sick, or they may just have minor symptoms. But if hepatitis C is left untreated, it can cause the liver to swell and become inflamed.
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