All Baby Boomers Should Be Tested for Hepatitis C

Most people with hepatitis C don’t know they are infected. While anyone can get the hepatitis C virus, more than 75 percent of adults infected are Baby Boomers (people born from 1945 through 1965). Because of this prevalence, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) along with the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) now recommend all Baby Boomers get tested once for hepatitis C.

While it is not completely understood, Baby Boomers are five times more likely to have hepatitis C than any other age group. It is believed many in this population may have become infected in the 1970s and 1980s, when rates of hepatitis C were the highest and the virus was not yet discovered. Many Baby Boomers may have been exposed to contaminated blood and blood products before widespread screening of the blood supply for the virus began in 1992 and universal precautions were adopted. Others may have become infected from using drugs, intravenous or intranasal, even once in the past.

People with hepatitis C can live for decades without symptoms, or experience vague symptoms. Hepatitis C symptoms (such as fatigue, joint pains and itchy skin) can be associated with the natural aging process and are often overlooked. Therefore, many Baby Boomers are unknowingly living with an infection they got many years ago. However, the longer people live with the virus, the more likely they are to develop serious, life-threatening liver disease.

Hepatitis C Diagnosis and Treatment

An estimated 800,000 people ages 48 to 68 will discover they have the hepatitis C virus after taking a one- time test. The good news is that there are new treatments which are more effective in treating chronic hepatitis C.

Getting a one-time blood test can help people learn if they have been exposed to the virus. Although no one wants a positive result, knowing you have hepatitis C offers the opportunity for treatment to prevent further liver damage. If a hepatitis C antibody test is positive, another blood test will be performed to confirm whether the virus is still active and the best course of treatment will be determined.

Treatments are available that can eliminate the virus from the body and prevent liver damage, cirrhosis, and even liver cancer. Today, treatment includes PEG interferon, Ribavirin, and one of the newer protease inhibitor medications. There are many new medications in development. The Mount Sinai Hospital is studying new oral therapies for hepatitis C, in addition to treating patients with regimes designed to clear them of the virus.